Born in February 1964, Chen earned a PhD from Imperial College London in 1993 and later served as an assistant researcher at the college. He joined the Tsinghua faculty in 1998 as vice-dean of the Department of Environmental Engineering.
An owner of more than a dozen patents and registered environmental software products, Chen has served as a member of the National Environmental Advisory Commission and as deputy chairman of the Science and Technology Committee of the environmental ministry.
Chen has published more than 200 papers and has been the author or co-editor of a number of books.
On Jan. 28, 2015, Chen replaces Zhou Shengxian, 65, who remains minister of environmental protection, though he is expected to be replaced. Ministry-level officials generally retire at age 65. Zhou was appointed in December 2005 as minister of what was then the General Administration of Environmental Protection.
Ministers of central government departments generally double as Party chiefs at the ministries they serve. However, there are exceptions.
Under Chinese law, ministers in the central government can only be appointed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which convenes bimonthly. That means the formal appointment of Chen as environmental minister will likely take place in late February 2015.
On February 27, 2015, Chen was formally appointed as environmental minister according to a vote by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.