He was sent to study the Confucian classics in a private school. Jiongming Chen received the literary degree of Xiucai in 1899, adopting the name Jiongming, and later the courtesy name Jingcun.
In 1904, he attended the Haifeng Normal School to train to become a schoolteacher, graduating and applying for a teaching position at the advanced primary school in Haifeng in 1905. He occasionally went to Huizhou to tutor wealthy students for the district examination. In early 1906, he unsuccessfully tried to create a private normal school for training teachers. When that plan failed, he attended the Academy of Law and Political Science in Guangzhou, which he graduated from in August 1908.
During his time at the Academy of Law and Political Science, Jiongming Chen and his friends often used their vacations to return to Haifeng and promote their Self-Government Association (Zizhihui), trying to eradicate opium smoking, improving local grain depots, and creating nurseries for children.
During his vacation from the Academy in February 1908, at the shrine to Wen Tianxiang in Haifeng, Jiongming Chen persuaded over 30 men to swear their support for the National Revolution. Chen's new group was made up of "village intellectuals".
Chen Jiongming returned home from the Academy in 1908, establishing the Haifeng Self-Government Gazette (Haifeng Zizhibao) in early 1909, where he was the editor-in-chief.
In 1909, 94 members were elected to the Guangdong Provincial Assembly. Chen Jiongming was one of the people elected to the assembly to represent Huizhou.
The first annual session of the Guangdong Provincial Assembly was called on October 14th, 1909 but delayed by 10 days. Chen Jiongming was elected to chair the Committee of Legal Matters. He introduced 6 of the 25 bills the Assembly passed during its first session. In the third meeting, he proposed a bill to abolish the Bureau of Rehabilitation, which was passed by the Assembly but rejected by the Governor-General in Guangzhou. In the fifth meeting, Jiongming Chen spoke against gambling and, on the subject with the border dispute with Macau, urged the Assembly to petition the Governor-General to talk to Beijing and set a course to negotiate with Portugal. During the ninth meeting, he expressed his opinion that the Assembly should not be subordinate to the Governor-General. Jiongming Chen introduced a bill to inaugurate schools for girls and another that required the election of the board of directors of educational institutions, instead of being appointed by the government.
A month after the creation of the Guangdong Provincial Assembly, the Jiangsu Assembly created the Union of Provincial Assemblies to urge Beijing to accelerate the constitutional program. Three delegates from each province were sent to Shanghai, which in February 1910 went to Beijing to call for the inauguration of a national parliament within one year. Chen Jiongming was one of the delegates representing Guangdong, along with another progressive, Qiu Fengjia. Chen went to Shanghai, but not to Beijing. By then, he was already back in Guangzhou, committed to a revolutionary uprising that had been planned to begin on February 12th. Had the coup succeeded, Chen Jiongming would have become the Deputy Chief of Guangdong. However, authorities had become aware of the coup around 3 months before it was to happen and put Canton under martial law.
On February 9, when the first clashes were starting, Chen Jiongming secretly left to Hong Kong. While in Hong Kong in February 1910, he and 10 others organized the Chinese Assassination Corps with Liu Shifu. He was one of the Corps' members that were involved both in the Corp and in the Tongmenghui.
Even though Chen Jiongming's involvement in revolutionary activities, he continued his activities as a member of the Guangdong Provincial Assembly. On October 3, 1910, Jiongming Chen attended the second annual Assembly session. During the session, Chen initiated the investigation for a magistrate in Haifeng.
Trained as a lawyer at the Academy of Law and Political Science, he became a Qing legislator, a republican revolutionary, a military leader, a civil administrator and a federalist who sought to reconstruct China as a democratic republic. He obtained the post of commander-in-chief of the Guangdong Army. He became military governor of Guangdong three times (1911-1912, 1913, 1920-1923) and civil governor of Guangdong from 1920–1922 and military governor of Guangxi from 1921-1922.
Jiongming Chen married Huang Yun, the daughter of the principal of the school he attended, birthing eight children, five of which were daughters - Buoyao, Biyao, Ruiyao, Shuyao, and Weiyao, and three of which were sons - Dingxia, Dingyan, and Dingbing.