Chen was born in Shanghai in 1949. He went on to receive a Bachelor's Degree in Economics, a Master's Degree from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, and later a Doctorate in Administration from Nanjing University Business School. In 1969 he joined the workforce and in September 1974, Chen joined the Communist Party of China.
Chen was Mayor and later CPC Committee Secretary of Suzhou. He then was the Governor of Shaanxi from 2004 to 2006. Then he was a Deputy at the National Development and Reform Commission, where he largely dealt with matters pertaining to China's Energy policy.
He was the Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce from 2007 to 2013. He was appointed to the post at the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on December 29, 2007.
In end of February 2014, Chen and delegation visited Taiwan for the 10th round of cross-strait negotiation with the SEF. Both sides signed agreements on meteorological and seismic data sharing. During the visit, he also met with Wang Yu-chi, the head of Mainland Affairs Council. At the final leg of the 3-day visit, Chen, accompanied by SEF Chairman Lin Join-sane and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, visited the Taipei Zoo to see Yuan Zai panda whose parents were sent by PRC government in 2008 to Taiwan.