Sun Qian originated from Beihai Commandery. He was recommended to Liu Bei (who was then the regional inspector of Xuzhou) by the masterful scholar, Zheng Xuan. When Liu Bei was at odds with Cao Cao and he planned to flee to Yuan Shao, Sun Qian was sent as the messenger and had Liu Bei's desire granted. He and Mi Zhu were later sent to Jimeng and pleaded Liu Biao to shelter their lord. Their words convinced Liu Biao and Liu Bei was put under his care.

When Yuan Tan and Yuan Shu's brothers fought with one another, Liu Biao sent Yuan Tan a letter. A line within the letter read as, "Even brothers with no blood relation with one another, Lord Liu Bei and Sun Qian, are pained when I discuss your every argument." At least from a glance, Sun Qian was close to his lord. He, Mi Zhu, and Jian Yong were ordered to be among Liu Bei's personal staff.

As Liu Bei suppressed Yi Province, Sun Qian was promoted as the General Who Upholds Loyalty (秉忠将軍; the seat after Mi Zhu). He died of sickness soon after.