Qu Tongfeng was born in Fushan County, now in Yantai, Fushan District of Shandong. At the age of 16 he joined the Beiyang Fleet, and served as second-class engineer on the Dingyuan during the First Sino-Japanese War. When the ship was sunk in the Battle of the Yalu River, he escaped into the sea and was rescued. He went on to get a higher education and was sent to the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1903, graduating in 1904. Upon his return he was given an infantry unit command. In 1907, he was given posts in the Beiyang Army in charge of drill, discipline and inspection. In 1910, he was promoted to command of a unit in Yunnan.
Following the 1911 Wuchang Uprising Qu rose in revolt, becoming commander of the 2nd Division. In 1912 he was promoted to Major General. He was made President of the Baoding Military Academy from 1913 to 1915. He was removed after opposing the Yuan Shikai's capitulation to the Twenty-One Demands. Following the death of Yuan Shikai Qu was given military commands again by the Anhui clique.
In 1920, he was the Anhui army frontline commander-in-chief in the Zhili–Anhui War. Wu Peifu led the Zhili clique army in a daring maneuver to capture the Anhui army headquarters after first outflanking the enemy, capturing Qu Tongfeng and many of his fellow officers. Qu was released from captivity in 1922.
Qu Tongfeng was shot in Tianjin in 1929.
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