Pan was born in Lujiang, Anhui Province. He began his education with his father Pan Xiao'an, a teacher. One of his classmate was Liu Bingzhang. He passed the county exam (考秀) and then the provincial exam, obtaining the juren (Chinese: 举人) degree in 1849.
He edited biographies at the Guoshiguan, National History Bureau (国史馆). When the Taiping Rebellion broke out, he ran militia and eventually had his own army, the Ding Battalion (Chinese: "鼎"字营; also Ting-tzu-ying). He was a commander in the civil wars against the Taiping Rebellion and the Nian Rebellion.: 41 : 162n He served as governor of Shandong in 1865, Yunnan in 1876 and Guangxi in 1884.,: 317 : 173  He was most noted for his role during the Sino-French War: Battle of Đồng Đăng, Battle of Bang Bo (Zhennan Pass), Kep Campaign.
Pan Dingxin is at the center of the movie The War of Loong (2017)
- Spector, Stanley (1964). Li Hung-chang and the Huai Army. Seattle: University of Washington Press. LCCN 64-11052.
- Folsom, Kenneth E. Friends (1968). Friends, Guests, and Colleagues. Los Angeles: University of California Press. LCCN 67-26479.
- Biography of Pan Dingxin, in Draft History of Qing
- "省级机构". Guangxi Chronicles (广西地方志). Retrieved 2015-09-05.
- Li Hongzhang zhi Pan Dingxin shu zha (Chinese: 李鴻章致潘鼎新書札), Publisher: Wenhai Chubanshe (Chinese: 文海出版社), , Taipei.