Chen, 19, bidding for her fourth overall gold medal at the Olympics, was in imperious form scoring 392.35 from her five dives to head the top 18 divers into Thursday's semi-finals.
Chen, who won the individual and synchronised events as a 15-year-old at Beijing four years ago, led for four of the five rounds and finished 43.35 points clear of her closest rival Pandelela Rinong of Malaysia.
"I feel it's all right. Two dives, I feel, were not really under control -- the second and the fourth," Chen said.
Chen's best were two scores of 81.60 for her armstand back double somersault with one and half twists and a back two and a half somersault with one and a half twists.
She is bidding for China's sixth gold diving medal in London after Chinese pair Qin Kai and defending champion He Chong were conquered by Russian Ilya Zakharov in Tuesday's 3m springboard ending their nation's hopes of sweeping all eight golds.
Chen already has one gold medal from the London Games in the synchronised 10m platform with Wang Hao.
She is the hot favourite for the platform gold as the reigning world champion, the winner of three legs of this year's world series in the individual event as well as winning the test event in the Olympic pool in February.
Fifth-ranked Pandelela completed her dives in 349.00 ahead of German Christin Steuer (341.75) and Australian pair, Brittany Broben (339.80) and Beijing finalist Melissa Wu (337.90).
"My performance was just okay," Pandelela said. "I need to recover faster for tomorrow in order to be able to perform my best in the semi-finals and the finals."
Steuer, who replaced injured teammate Nora Subschinski, said: "I got third place, so that's good. I was surprised to reach third."
Second-ranked Hu Yadan, 16, runner-up to Chen at last year's world championships, was off her best and finished with 337.85 in sixth place.
"It was not good," Hu said. "I was really nervous in the whole competiton and this was reflected, especially in the fourth dive. I was not consistent during the dives."
Canada's third-ranked Roseline Filion scraped into the semis in 17th spot (314.85), but British pair, Monique Gladding (301.45) and Stacie Powell (287.30) both missed out despite their huge home backing in 19th and 20th places respectively.
"Preliminaries are hard but I made it through. I dived pretty well before the event, but today I didn't dive as I hoped to. But I am excited to go to the semi-final," Filion said.
The semi-finals will decide the 12 divers for Thursday night's final.