Cheng was originally known as an illustrator. He initially gained attention for illustrating short stories for Lu Xun, who is considered to be one of the 20th century's best known Chinese satirists. However, Cheng ultimately became best known for his traditional brush paintings of minorityethnic groups from Yunnan, a southwestern border province known for its ethnic diversity. Cheng's work stressed the unity and connection between different ethnic groups, winning Cheng awards from the government.
Cheng died at a hospital in Shanghai on June 17, 2007, of an undisclosed illness.