Ma was born in Xiangtan, Hunan in 1920. He graduated from Central Political School . He married Qin Houxiu in 1944 and came to Taiwan in 1948.
Ma was a Director at Youth Supervision Committee of the Executive Yuan and Vice Chairman of Performance Committee of Kuomintang.
Ma Ho-ling had a strong influence on his son Ma Ying-jeou. In an interview in 2004, he said that he wanted his son to run for president. But in 2005 he strongly opposed his son to and even threat to commit suicide if Ma Ying-jeou would not give up his candidacy.
Ma Ho-ling died of a heart attack in 2005. The inscription on his urn said: "Replace independence with gradual unification, strengthen China and work towards unification." When this inscription was disclosed, President Chen Shui-bian took advantage of it as evidence that Ma Ying-jeou did not love Taiwan.
During the , Chuang Kuo-jung, an official of the ROC Ministry of Education, accused Ma Ho-ling of having affairs with various women. After arousing public anger, Chuang apologized and stepped down from his post.