According to tradition, the royal family of Chen were descendants of the mythical Emperor Shun. After the conquest of the Shang Dynasty around 1046 BC, King Wu of Zhou sought out the potter Gui Man (妫满/媯滿), a descendant of Shun, and gave him the fief of Chen as Duke Hu of Chen (陈胡公/陳胡公).
Chen later became a satellite state of Chu, fighting as an ally of Chu at the Battle of Chengpu. It was finally annexed by Chu in 479 BC. Many people of Chen then took the name of their former country as their family name, and account for the majority of Chinese people with the family name Chen today. After the destruction of the old Chu capital at Ying, Chen became the Chu capital for a period.