Qian was a famous author and poet. And along with Gong Dingzi and Wu Weiye was known as one of the Three Masters of Jiangdong. His courtesy name was "Shouzhi" (受之) and his pseudonyms were "Muzhai" (牧斋) and later "Mengsou" (蒙叟).
He passed the imperial examination in 1610 at the age of 28.
Qian knew many independent women from entertainment and artistic circles, whom he treated as equals. One was a Ma Ruyu from Nanking, a consummate actress.
She had had a good formal education. In addition she could paint and produce calligraphy in the square style.
In her time she intimidated the male literati around her.
He treated her as his intellectual equal and companion on travels and social gatherings. Her poetry was preserved by Qian. Qian had important ties to the local writers and artists in the Jiading and Kunshan area outside modern Shanghai.
Preceding this generation of individuals was the prose master Gui Youguang (1507–1571) who opposed the classicists headed by Wang Shizhen (1526–1590).
The antagonism to the classicist school would continue throughout the life and writings of Qian Qianyi himself. In 1644, Qian taught an excellent student in Nanjing: Koxinga.