Chen Cheng attended the Eleventh Normal School at Lishui. In 1917 he graduated and entered the Hangzhou provincial school of physical education, graduating in 1918. He then entered the eighth class of the Baoding Military Academy where he specialized in artillery. In June 1922 graduated from the Baoding Military Academy.
In June 1924 he became an artillery instructor at the Huangpu (Whampoa) Military Academy, where he formed what would become a lifelong friendship with Jiang Jieshi and an adversarial relationship with the academy5s commandant, He Yingqin.
In January 1926 Chen Cheng became commander of the Huangpu Specialist Corps and was promoted to staff officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel when the Northern Expedition began. In the spring of 1927, he was promoted to brigadier general; that July, he received command of the Twenty-first Division.
After participating in the final stage of the Northern Expedition, Chen Cheng was assigned to the campaigns against Communist forces in Jiangxi province. In Jiangxi he not only distinguished himself militarily but collected many Chinese Communist documents; those documents describing Chinese Red Army history, organization and tactics, were reprinted in six volumes in Taiwan in 1960.
In March 1935 Chen Cheng reorganized cavalry, artillery, and engineering units throughout China. In 1936 he served in Shanxi province, curbing Communist forces in the northwest and strengthening Nationalist government control over Shanxi.
With Jiang Jieshi-full trust, Chen continued to serve in various posts. On June 14, 1938, he was made commanding officer of the Ninth War Area, governor of Hubei province, secretary-general of the San Min Zhu Yi Youth Corp, and dean of the central training corps, all at the same time.
As the Nationalist government war of resistance against Japan worsened, Chen Cheng responsibilities increased. Promoted to the rank of general second grade, Chen undertook the defense of Chongqing city and Hubei province and commanded the Sixth War Area. In February 1943, Jiang appointed Chen Cheng to command the new Expeditionary Army which was being created with American military aid and advisory help to spearhead the campaign to recover Burma. Rivalry with General He Yingzin complicated Chen Cheng, organizational efforts.
When the Japanese launched Operation Ichigo in mid-April 1994, Chen Cheng’s task was to contain Chinese communist forces in the northwest as well as their growing influence in north China. In December 1944 Chen Cheng was made minister of war, his tasks were to upgrade the Chinese army with American military aid and to oversee military affairs in rear areas.
After Japan's defeat, Chen Cheng began fighting the Communists again, this time in Manchuria. Jiang appointed Chen director of the Northeast Headquarters. But by the time Chen took control of his troops, the Communists had infiltrated and taken the initiative in Manchuria by pushing their land reform and isolating the cities.
In January 1948, when the Communists launched their full military campaign against the Nationalist forces, Chen Cheng asked to be relieved for surgery to remove his stomach ulcers. After his recovery he was appointed chairman of the Taiwan provincial government and, on July 19, 1949, commander of the office of a new headquarters for southeast China at Taibei. On March 1, 1950, Chen Cheng became president of the Executive Yuan at Taibei. In 1952 he implemented Taiwan's land reform program.
In March 1954 and again in March 1960 the National Assembly elected Chen Cheng vice-president of the Republic of China. In July-August 1961 he paid an official visit to the United States to build goodwill between the two nation states. As Jiang Jieshi's son rose in power and influence, Chen Cheng was unable to formally succeed Jiang Jieshi as president. On March
1965 Chen Cheng died in Taibei from cancer of the liver.