Chen, a native of Yin County (current Yinzhou, Ningbo) of Zhejiang, studied at Daxia University in Shanghai. After graduation, Chen taught at Daxia, which became East China Normal University in 1951.
In 1953, Chen became an associate professor of Zhejiang Agricultural University (previous and current Zhejiang University). In 1958, Chen founded the first laboratory in China to study agricultural science by nuclear physics techniques, especially the radioactive isotope.
From 1979 to 1989, Chen was the Vice-president and then President of the Zhejiang Agricultural University.
From 1998 to present, Chen is a professor at Zhejiang University College of Agriculture and Biotechnology (浙江大学农业与生物技术学院).