Of Han descent, she was born in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. Her father trained as an engineer in the United States before returning to China; some sources report that Qian was born in the United States. She trained as a civil engineer at Utopia University. Qian joined the Communist Party of China in 1941. She worked with the Red Army in northern China and was involved in projects on the Huai and Yellow Rivers. In 1949, she was vice-director of the Water Conservancy Department of the East China Political and Military Commission and Vice-Director of the Project Department for the Huaihe River Commission. From 1950 to 1952, she was president of East China Technical University of Water Resources (now Hohai University).
She was a member of the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Central Committees of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Qian was also vice-minister and then Minister of Water Resources. She served as Vice Chairperson of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference for the 7th, 8th and 9th national committees. In 1994, she was elected the sixth president of the Red Cross Society of China. In 1997, she was elected academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and, in 1998, received the Technology Engineering of China prize.
- "Officials from mainland China and Hong Kong SAR to deliver Faculty of Engineering Distinguished Lecture at HKU". University of Hong Kong. March 10, 2004.
- "Qian Zhengying, Vice-Chairman of Ninth CPPCC National Committee". People's Daily.
- Pietz, David A (2014). The Yellow River: The Problem of Water in Modern China. p. 140. ISBN 0674058240.
- Sullivan, Lawrence R (2007). Historical Dictionary of the People's Republic of China. p. 414. ISBN 0810864436.
- "Qian Zhengying". Honorary Graduates. University of Hong Kong.
- "Qian Zhengying 钱正英". China Vitae.