He was one of the most well-known Chinese authors to the Western world. Graduating from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1933, Qian continued his studies in Oxford University (Exeter College) in Britain, and later University of Paris in France. He returned to China in 1938 and became a professor at Tsinghua University.
His most famous novel, Wei Cheng (Fortress Besieged), was then published in 1947. His other works include Ren*Shou*Gui (Men*Beasts*Ghosts), Xiezai Renshen Bianshang (Written at the Edge of Life).
He also wrote elaborate notes on Chinese classics, showing his erudition and insight into a comparative study of different cultures. For all of this, literature was not his primary employment, he was the translator for much of Mao Tse-tung's collected works, which occupied most of the remainder of his active professional life. Only recently have translations of his earlier works become widely available, though Fortress Besieged was adapted into a television mini-series in China in 1990.
His wife, Yang Jiang, is also an author, best known for her translation of Don Quixote into Chinese.