Chi was born July, 1929 in Zhaoyuan, , China. In October, 1946 he joined the . He was recruited to the army in July 1945, and graduated from the synthesis department of Military Academy of PLA.
In 1973, he became the vice political commissar of Beijing Military Region, and vice editor in chief of a prominent newspaper "People's Daily". He later became vice director of the general staff department of PLA and the director of political department under it, the political commissar of Jinan Military Region, and the head of the general staff department of PLA as well as the secretary of CPC's committee there. He was elected as a member of central military commission in 1988.
In 1993 Chi became a state council member and the until 2003. He was also the director of the Law of National Defense Draft Commission. He was elected to the vice chairman of central military commission of CPC in September 1995, and CMC of the state in December that year.
He was elected as a member of central committee of CPC's 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th National Congresses, and a Politburo member at 15th Congress.
He was awarded First-class honor in 1952, and Third-Class Liberation medal in 1985. He was made general in 1988.
His habits include reading books, especially those of Lu Xun's and military ones. He's good at swimming, horse-riding and wrestling. He used to be the honorary Chairman of Chinese Wrestling Association.
His wife is Jiang Qinping. She is a native of Changzhou, Jiangsu province, and was a doctor in the Navy's general hospital of PLA. The couple has a son and a daughter.