Born in Daming County, Hebei Province, Tian joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in April 1964, and started working in February 1968. He served in the Beijing Petrochemical Factory, the Qianjin Chemical Industry Factory affiliated to Beijing Petrochemical Factory, and the Yanshan Petrochemical Corporation. He was appointed the secretary of the CPC committee in the Xicheng District of Beijing in 1984. In 1988, he was transferred to Qinghai Province and served as the vice secretary of the CPC Qinghai committee. He became the acting governor of Qinghai in December 1992, and was confirmed as governor in January 1993. In 1997, he was elevated to the position of secretary of the CPC Qinghai committee. In 1998, he was additionally elected as the chairman of the Qinghai provincial People's Congress. He became the Party chief of Shanxi Province in 1999, and was elected chairman of the Shanxi provincial People's Congress in January 2003. From July 2005 to March 2008, he served as the Minister of Labor and Social Security of China (now the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People's Republic of China, or MOHRSS).