He hailed from Changling 長陵 in the metropolitan region Jingzhao 京兆, and experienced a very turbulent life. Because of court intrigues against him and a personal offence he had to escape arrestment and made his life as a bun vendor in Beihai 北海. In later years he fell under the ban of court factions (danggu 黨錮) imposed by the eunuch clique and lost his office for more than ten years. It is known that he had been regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the province of Bingzhou 幷州, court gentleman for consultation (yilang 議郎) and even chamberlain for ceremonials (taichang 太常). He died in a very old age.
Zhao Qi was an expert of the book Mengzi 孟子, which he esteemed as the most profound text of all Confucian treatises, and therefore wrote a phrase-commentary, the Mengzi zhangju 孟子章句, with a length of 14 juan. It is the oldest surviving phrase-commentary (zhangju 章句) text of early China and has been praised highly by the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Jiao Xun 焦循 (1763-1820), who considered it as a scholarly model for later generations.