Tufa Poqiang was born in 403, a year after his father Tufa Rutan had become Southern Liang's prince. After Southern Liang was destroyed by Western Qin in 414, Tufa He appeared to have, along with his father and most of his family, surrendered to Western Liang's prince Qifu Chipan. After his older brother Tufa Hutai and sister Princess Tufa were executed in 423, after their failed plot to assassinate Qifu Chipan, Tufa Poqiang, along with a number of his brothers and other relatives, first fled to Northern Liang, and then to Northern Wei. He was created the Marquess of Xiping, and was particularly amazed at his talents. Because the Tufa clan and Emperor Mingyuan's Tuoba clan traced their lines to a common ancestor, Emperor Mingyuan changed Tufa Poquiang's surname to Yuan , meaning "origin."
During Emperor Mingyuan's and Emperor Taiwu's reigns
Tufa Poqiang, now named Yuan Poqiang, soon became a Northern Wei general. Because he was able to defeat a number of rebellious tribes, he received repeated promotions.
When Emperor Mingyuan's son made a major attack on Northern Liang in 439, intending to destroy it and annex its territory, Yuan was his guide. Yuan was able to persuade a number of Xianbei tribes, which had been subjects of his grandfather Tufa Sifujian , to submit to the Northern Wei army, greatly helping Northern Wei forces with their food supplies during the successful siege of Northern Liang's capital Guzang . For his contributions, Yuan's title was upgraded to Duke of Xiping. He appeared to be uninvolved in the subsequent rebellion by his brother Tufa Baozhou , and he was not punished on account of Tufa Baozhou's rebellion. He followed Emperor Taiwu on campaigns against Rouran and the Xiongnu rebel Gai Wu , and he often was on the frontlines, not fearing for his own safety. Emperor Taiwu warned him against being overly aggressive, and changed his personal name from Poqiang to He , believing the name to fit better.
After Emperor Taiwu was assassinated by the eunuch Zong Ai in 452, Zong initially made Emperor Taiwu's son Tuoba Yu the Prince of Nan'an emperor, and then assassinated Tuoba Yu as well. Yuan He started a coup d'etat, in alliance with other officials Dugu Ni , Baba Kehou , and Buliugu Li, and overthrew Zong, placing Emperor Taiwu's pre-deceased crown prince Tuoba Huang's son on the throne as Emperor Wencheng.
During Emperor Wencheng's reign
As one of the officials who were responsible for Emperor Wencheng's becoming emperor, Yuan He was exceedingly trusted by the emperor, and during the internecine struggles between imperial officials during Emperor Wencheng's early reign, he not only did not suffer but prospered. His title was upgraded to Prince of Xiping. On one occasion in 452, Emperor Wencheng told him to take whatever reward he wished from the imperial treasury, and he declined on account that the imperial treasury needed to conserve in order to be able to fight Liu Song and Rouran. When Emperor Wencheng insisted, he only took one warhorse. It was also around this time that, based on Yuan He's suggestion, the Northern Wei laws were made slightly more lenient; previously, accused treasonous persons' male relatives were all executed as well, and under Yuan He's proposal, the law was changed that those males under 12 would not be executed but only be made slaves.
In winter 456, Yuan He's title was changed to Prince of Longxi, and he was made the governor of Ji Province , and around this time, he made the further criminal law reform proposal that those who were sentenced to death, other than those charged with treason or murder, would have their sentences commuted to exile to and military service on the northern borders or southern borders to assist with the state's defense. Emperor Wencheng accepted his proposal. When a man named Shi Hua subsequently accused Yuan of treason, Emperor Wencheng quickly personally guaranteed that Yuan did not commit treason, and Shi was exposed as a false accusor and executed.
During Emperor Xianwen's reign
After Yuan served as the governor of Ji Province for seven years, in 466, he was recalled back to the capital Pingcheng and promoted to being the commander of the armed forces, although his actual power at this time was unclear, for historical accounts did not make many references to him. At this time, Emperor Wencheng had already died in 465 and was succeeded by his young son , with Emepror Wencheng's wife serving as regent. In 470, Yuan was one of the generals for a major attack that Emperor Xianwen, who had by then assumed imperial powers, made against Rouran.
In 471, Emperor Xianwen, who favored philosophical discussions and did not want to be emperor much longer, considered passing the throne to his uncle Tuoba Zitui the Prince of Jingzhao, and he called an imperial council meeting to discuss the matter. At that time, Yuan was commanding the troops to defend against a Rouran attack, but Emperor Xianwen recalled him to Pingcheng to join the discussion. Yuan opposed Emperor Xianwen's idea of passing the throne to Tuoba Zitui, concurring with another uncle of Emperor Xianwen, Tuoba Yun the Prince of Rencheng that passing the throne to an uncle would be a violation of the proper order of succession, and that if Emperor Xianwen wanted to leave the throne, the proper successor would be the crown prince . After further discussion, Emperor Xianwen agreed and passed the throne to the four-year-old Tuoba Hong, who took the throne as Emperor Xiaowen, although Emperor Xianwen, as ''Taishang Huang'' , remained in actual power.
During Emperor Xiaowen's reign
In 474, Yuan He was relieved of his post as commander of the armed forces on account of his illness. He never returned to serve in the imperial administration, and he died in 479. By that time, Emperor Xianwen himself had died, but Emperor Xiaowen and Grand Empress Dowager Feng, in a show of great respect for Yuan, bestowed many burial items that were reserved for emperors, and had Yuan buried near the past emperors.