Zheng was born to a poor family. Homeless at 14, he was taken care of by Francis E. Lund, an American Episcopalian missionary. He was baptized in 1901 at St. James Church in Wuhu and confirmed by Bishop James Addison Ingle at the Zhong Hua Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican Church in China) a year later. While in St. James High School, Zheng organized the St. Peter's Society, comprising members committed to training for Christian ministry. He completed his studies at Boone College in Wuchang in 1908 and graduated from Boone Divinity School in 1909. He was ordained a deacon in 1909 by Bishop Logan Roots in St. Paul's Cathedral, Hankou, and served as headmaster of St. James High School and as an assistant priest in St. James Church. He was the first priest to be ordained in 1912 by the newly consecrated Bishop Huntington. Zheng was appointed rector of True Light Church at Nanling (near Wuhu) in 1914. He was concurrently general secretary of the Anglican mission board from 1916 to 1921. After relinquishing his church responsibility in Nanling in 1921, he concentrated on raising funds for the mission in Shaanxi. He also became secretary of the interdenominational China for Christ movement started in 1919 by Cheng Chingyi.
Zheng went to the United States in 1923 and studied for one year each at Virginia Theological School and the divinity school of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Both later awarded him honorary doctorates, as did several other institutions. He graduated with a master's degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1926. He returned home to become dean of Holy Savior in Anhui. In Mar 1927, antiforeign and anti-Christian nationalists killed the vice president of Nanjing University, Dr. J. E. Williams, and ransacked churches. Zheng and his family were forced to evacuate their home. After the Western missionaries were expelled, the church was reopened and Zheng took charge of the Anglican Church affairs and property. He was the first Chinese to be elected chairman of the house of delegates at the general synod in Shanghai, 1928, and was consecrated in Feb 1929 as an assistant bishop to William C. White, a Canadian and bishop of Henan. Zheng was the only non-Caucasian at the 1930 Lambeth Conference in England. The conference recognized the Chinese Anglican Church to be an independent province. In 1935 Zheng succeeded White as bishop of Henan and was enthroned at Trinity Cathedral, Kaifeng.
During the Japanese invasion of China, Zheng took over the responsibilities of Arnold Scott and John Wellington, the bishops of North China and Shandong, respectively, when they were interned. Zheng decided to be financially independent of the Canadian church in 1944 and was elected to succeed Scott as chairman of the house of bishops, or archbishop, by the general synod in Aug 1947.
Zheng went to the United States after attending the 1948 Lambeth Conference and suffered a stroke in Philadelphia. He went to recuperate in Canada, where his son, Zheng Jianye (C. Y. Cheng), was studying at Trinity College. (Cheng was consecrated bishop of Henan in 1951) Zheng returned to Shanghai in 1948 and retired. He was a supporter of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement until his death.