Shen Yunying was the daughter of General Shen Zhixu, and as a child, she was interested in the martial arts and read many books on this subjects. She also accompanied her father on his missions, and she was married to a man of the army as well.
In 1643, her father was killed in battle against the rebel army of Zhang Xianzhong, and Shen Yunying took his place in command during the fight and led the soldiers to victory. In recognition of this, she was offered her father's position, which she accepted.
She displayed great military skill in her fight to protect the Ming dynasty from the armies of both the Manchu Qing dynasty and Gao Guiying, the other great female commander of the time, on whose opposite side she was, but she could not prevent the capture of Beijing in 1644 and the death of the last Ming emperor. When her husband was killed in battle the same year, one year after her father, she lost her will to fight from the sorrow and withdrew to a private life. She founded a school where she educated girls in both academics and the martial arts.
Shen Yunying died in 1660.
She became the character in the Chinese opera of the same name (e.g., in the repertoire of Cheng Yanqiu 程硯秋, 1904-1958)