Born in Qingtian (青田), Zhejiang, he graduated from a Baoding Army Officer Academy (保定陸軍軍官學校) in 1922, and entered Whampoa Academy two years later. He worked for Zhang Xueliang during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and under Chiang Kai-shek, fought against the Chinese communist army in 1946. After being relieved of duty, he worked in Taiwan as a chairman, premier, and vice-president.
He was married to Tan Xiang (譚祥), daughter of a politician. Chen and Tan's eldest son, Chen Li-an, also became a politician.
Originally located in a Taipei memorial park containing a museum dedicated to him, Chen's creamated remains were moved to Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung County in August 1995.
His official name was in Gwoyeu Romatzyh.