Born in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of north-western China, Qin spent his youth herding sheep and received no formal education until the age of 12. In the 1980s, he left the region to study traditional painting and calligraphy at the Shandong University of Art and Design and in the mid-1990s moved to Berlin, where he was asked to curate a show to promote cultural exchange between the two countries and then teach at the Berlin University of the Arts. Qin later moved to the USA, living in New York and then Boston, where he did a residency at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. His work has been exhibited at institutions around the world, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Beijing; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Saatchi Gallery, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.