Coming from an intellectual family, Qigang Chen began his musical studies as a child. In his early teens, he was confronted with the Cultural Revolution and would spend three years locked up in a barracks, undergoing an 'ideological reeducation'. Nonetheless, his passion for music remained unshakeable and, in spite of the social pressure and anti-cultural policy, he pursued his training in composition.
In 1977, Qigang Chen was one of 26 candidates out of two thousand to be accepted into the composition class at the Beijing Central Conservatory. After five years of studies with Luo Zhongrong, in 1983 he stood for the national competition where he came first. As a result, he was the only one in his field to be authorized to go abroad to pursue graduate studies in composition.
Olivier Messiaen's last student, from 1984 to 1988. His first five years in France allowed him to broaden the scope of his culture and acquire new knowledge about 20th-century music.
Qigang Chen is one of the living composers much performed around the world, winning him many accolades. In 2001, his orchestral work Wu Xing was selected from over 1000 entries as one of the five finalists of the Masterprize Award, hosted by the BBC. In 2003, EMI/Virgin Classics released an album devoted to his music, including the highly acclaimed work Iris devoilée. It was later voted by Gramophone Magazine as one of the Top Ten Classical Recordings of the Month. In 2005, He was awarded the Grand Prix de la Musique Symphonique by SACEM in recognition of his career achievement. He worked as Music Director of the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Most recently, in 2013, he was decorated with Chevalier de l'Ordre des arts et des lettres by the French government.
In 2015, he launched a composition workshop at Gonggeng College in China, as a platform for dialogues with, and between, young musicians.