Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, Tseng studied photography at L'Académie Julian in Paris. In 1978, Tseng moved to Manhattan, becoming a fixture of New York’s downtown art scene and a close friend of Keith Haring whose work and activities he documented. Soon after arriving, Tseng began the series East Meets West, photographing himself at iconic tourist locales throughout America, wearing a “Mao suit”, dark sunglasses and an enigmatic expression. Pictured at the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and other monumental sites, Tseng’s persona suggests that of an austere, visiting dignitary, paying homage to sites signifying American greatness.
Deceased in 1990 at age thirty-nine from AIDS-related illness, Tseng’s work has been widely exhibited and published. His work is in numerous public collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Tate Britain; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., and many others. In 2015, a retrospective Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing For the Camera was held at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, and the Grey Art Gallery at New York University.