Born in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1953, Chong was raised in Prince George. She worked as an economist with the Department of Finance. From 1980 to 1984, she served in the Prime Minister's Office as an economics advisor to late Pierre Trudeau.
Her career in writing began with the discovery of her family's roots in China, which led to her memoir, The Concubine's Children: Portrait of a Family Divided, which won the City of Vancouver Book Award in 1994, the Edna Staebler Award, and the VanCity Book Prize, and was for 93 weeks on the bestseller list of The Globe and Mail. Her adaptation of her memoir for the stage premiered at Nanaimo's Port Theatre in 2004. Her second book is The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War. Both books were finalists for the Governor-General's Literary Non-Fiction Award, have been translated into several languages.
Denise Chong has continued her involvement in public life. She has served on many public boards, task forces, and committees, including the Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service, the National Advisory Board on Culture Online, and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Chong has an honorary doctorate from the University of Northern British Columbia.
Chong lives in Ottawa, Ontario, with her husband, CTV reporter Roger Smith, and her two children, Jade and Kai.