Chen was born in Lu Feng, Guangdong. He was at one point secretary to Guangdong party chief Xie Fei. He served as the party chief of Conghua while a member of the Guangzhou municipal Party Standing Committee, then head of the propaganda department of the Guangzhou party committee. He was then named party chief of Heyuan, before taking over as mayor of Guangzhou in 2011. On 26 January 2016, Chen Jianhua was elected the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Guangzhou People's Congress.