Xiaoyong Chen studied composition at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music and transferred in 1985 to Hamburg in order to complete graduate studies with György Ligeti at the Music Academy there. He is active as a Guest Professor in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, amongst other places. Since 1987 he has been a lecturer at the Asia-Africa Institute of the University of Hamburg.
In October 2010 Chen was appointed Guest Professor in the areas of New Music, Composition and Chinese Musical Culture at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Hamburg.
Chen is fascinated by the creation and development of the single tone. His works frequently originate in an apparently simple sound event that seems as yet untouched by compositional development. For Chen, composing is communication with the sound, tracing its as yet hidden possibilities. For this reason his works have an openness which creates the impression that the composer, like the listener, is not a priori certain about where the music is leading.