Qin was born and raised in Tailai County, Heilongjiang in March 1953. He began work in February 1971 and joined the Communist Party of China in March 1976.
From February 1997 to December 1998, he served as the Deputy CPC Party Chief and Mayor of Hegang, in Heilongjiang P. Then he was transferred to Jiaozuo and appointed the Deputy CPC Party Chief and Mayor, he was re-elected in January 1999. In February 2001 he was promoted to become the CPC Party Chief, a position he held until January 2004.
He became the Vice-Governor of He'nan in January 2004, and concurrently the head of the Department of Public Security, effectively the top police chief of the province. He served in the post until January 2013.
In January 2013, he was appointed as Vice Chairman of He'nan Provincial People's Congress. He also held the post of party branch secretary of the provincial People's Congress.
On September 21, 2014, state media reported that Qin would undergo investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China for "serious disciplinary violations".
On February 13, 2015, at the conclusion of the internal party investigation, Qin was expelled from the Communist Party and detained by prosecution authorities. The party investigation concluded that Qin had taken massive bribes, cash gifts, and wasted public resources. It also said he sought illicit benefits for his associates and gave favorable treatment to certain businesses, and "committed adultery". Qin was sentenced for 13 years and 6 months in prison on November 28, 2016.
Qin Yuhai was the honorary chairman of the Photographers' Association of Henan Province, his albums included Mountains and Rivers of Jiaozuo, Mount Yuntai Landscapes, Mount Phoenix in October, Glimpses of Wuda Lianchi Volcanic Field, The Dreamland, Wu Xiang – Water, and the Real and China – Mount Phoenix.
At the time of the investigation into Qin in September 2014, Qin's photographic work Mount Yuntai Landscapes can be seen at various station platforms in the Beijing Subway, including Jianguomen, Dawanglu, and Sihui East stations. In response to Qin's corruption investigation, Beijing Subway agreed to remove his works from the platforms.
The South China Morning Post reported that Qin used his power to give a company massive government contracts to promote a local mountain and tourist destination on billboards in the Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai subways, worth tens of millions of dollars. It was said that Qin had received bribes from the company in the form of cameras and assistance in promoting his work in China and abroad. In addition, Qin was said to have been so engrossed in his photography hobby that he spent almost all of his free time taking pictures of the Yuntai Mountain while holding the office of the Mayor of Jiaozuo, and neglected some of his official duties.