He hailed from Liuxian 六縣 (modern Liu'an 六安, Anhui). His alternative name is derived from a punishment he was sentenced to, executed by tattooing his face with the word "criminal". He was also sentenced tor corvée labour at the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE) in Mt. Lishan 酈山.
When the Qin empire was shaken by the uprising of Chen Sheng 陳勝, Ying Bu took over command of the corvée labourers and guided them back to southern China. He supported Lord Wu Rui 吳芮 but later offered his service to general Xiang Liang 項梁, who bestowed him the title of Lord Dangyang 當陽君.
After Xiang Liang's death Ying Bu served his nephew Xiang Yu. He commanded the vanguard army of the rebels and crushed the army of Qin at Julu 巨鹿 (modern Pingxiang 平鄉, Hebei). On the order of Xiang Yu, he buried alive 200,000 Qin soldiers of general Zhang Han 章邯 in Xin'an 新安 (modern Xin'an, Henan). For this deed he was invested as King of Jiujiang 九江 after Xiang Yu had declared himself hegemonial king.
In the ensuing fight for power between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, Ying Bu changed side and supported Liu Bang as "martial king" 武王. Liu Bang soon made him King of Huainan 淮南. Ying Bu took part in the last battle against Xiang Yu at Gaixia 垓下 (near modern Lingbi 靈璧, Anhui). After the foundation of the Han dynasty, Liu Bang one by one annihilated his former supporters Han Xin 韓信 and Peng Yue 彭越. Ying Bu, fearing the same fate, rebelled against Liu Bang and killed his brother Liu Jia 劉賈, the prince of Jing 荊 (Chu 楚). In 195 Liu Bang defeated Ying Bu's army at Qi 蘄 (modern Suxian 宿縣, Anhui) and crossed the Yangtze river southwards. In Chu, he was finally killed by Wu You 吳誘, King of Changsha 長沙 and son of Wu Rui.