Born in Anqing, Anhui province in 1916, Ye is considered the founder of Chinese atmospheric physics, and was awarded the State Preeminent Science and Technology Award in 2005 by Chinese President Hu Jintao, which is the nation's highest scientific prize.
From 1935-1941, Ye studied at Tsinghua University, Beijing. From 1941-1943, he did his graduate study (M.Sc) at Zhejiang University, Hangzhou. From 1943-1944, he was a research assistant at the Meteorological Institute, Academia Sinica, Chongqing (war-period capital of China).
In 1945-1948, Ye studied at University of Chicago, and obtained his PhD there (under Carl-Gustaf Rossby). From 1947-1950, he was a researcher at University of Chicago. From 1950-1966, he served as a division director and professor at the Institute of Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
From 1966 until his death, he was the chief director and later the honorary director of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Science (IAP/CAS). In 1981-1984, he was the vice-president of Chinese Academy of Science. From 1984 till his death, he was also an advisor of Chinese Academy of Science.
In 1978-1986, Ye was the president of Chinese Meteorological Society. In 1982-1988, he was the chairman of the Chinese National Committee for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). In 1987-1991, he was the chairman of the Chinese National Committee for International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). In 1987-1993, he was the chairman of the Chinese National Committee for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).