Shi was born in Kaifeng, Henan in 1601. When he was 44 years old, Shi was put in charge of the doomed city of Yangzhou. At the time, the Ming was already beginning to collapse and the Ming soldiers had lost their will to fight. However, Shi was still able to convince his men that a defense of the city was possible.
The Qing armies under Prince Dodo tried to lay siege to the walls of Yangzhou repeatedly, but with little success. Shi had trained his men to use European firearms , and dealt heavy blows on the them. It was said that the casualties were so high that the corpses of the fallen Manchu army reached the height of the city's wall. In fact, this was supposedly how the Manchus finally breached the wall of the city, by climbing over the dead corpses of their comrades. As the Manchus scaled the city wall, the weakened Ming troops, low on morale, made no effort to fight or run. Shi, much saddened by the weakness of his countrymen, ordered his officers to behead him. However, they could not bring themselves to kill such a hero. He was soon captured by the Manchu and brought to trial before Prince Dodo.
Prince Dodo, much impressed by Shi's loyalty as a general and his brilliant strategies fending off the Manchus with a doomed army, stated "You have done your duty, general; now I will grant you a post." . However, Shi refused to abandon the great Ming, wishing rather to commit suicide and vanish along with it. Dodo continued trying to persuade Shi to join his side for several weeks, but was not successful. Thus, Shi was granted his wish to perish along with his beloved dynasty. The Shi Kefa Memorial, a temple devoted to the memory of the local hero, is located in modern Yangzhou.
Shi Kefa calligraphy in cursive and semi-cursive style is celebrated and found in various collections.