Zhou Yu 周瑜 was a military general who served warlord and close friend Sun Ce 孫策 and later Sun Quan 孫權. He played a great role in the establishment of the state of Wu 吳, as he together with Sun Ce conquered the commanderies in the southeast of Han-China when Sun Ce took independency from Yuan Shu 袁術. Following Sun Ce’s death in 200 AD he aided Sun Ce’s younger brother Sun Quan in stabilizing the conquered lands and expanding further west to the Jiang river. In 208 AD the armies of Sun Quan and Liu Bei 劉備 scored a famous victory over the much larger forces of Cao Cao 曹操 at the Red Cliffs. The combined army was led by Zhou Yu. Two years later Zhou Yu made plans to conquer the lands of Liu Zhang 劉璋 in the west, but died before putting his plan in motion.


Zhou Yu was born in the year 175 AD and his home of record was Shu 舒 county in Lujiang 廬江 commandery,[1] Yang Province 扬州. His father was Zhou Yi 周異, his mother’s name is not known. The Zhou were a celebrated family; Zhou Yi was Prefect of Luoyang and a kinsmen of his, Zhou Zhong 周忠, was Grand Commandant with control of the Imperial Secretariat in 192. Zhou Yu himself showed early promise and ability.[1]

Meeting Sun CeEdit

In 189 Dong Zhuo 董卓 seized power in Luoyang and in the first month of 190 a coalition consisting of various warlords was formed to oppose. One of these warlords was Yuan Shu and Sun Jian 孫堅, father of Sun Ce, went to join him. Before he left, he sent his family Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Lady Wu 吳 and others, from Changsha 長沙 commandery to Shu county in Lujiang commandery.[2][3]

The Sun family was not of distinguished background, however Sun Jian did make a name for himself during the campaigns against the Yellow Turbans, the Liang Province rebels and a rebellion in southern Jing. Sun Ce, like Zhou Yu, showed early promise and ability and had gained notice among his contemporaries and seniors. When Sun Jian left to Yuan Shu in 190, both Zhou Yu and Sun Ce were 15 years of age[n 1] and they developed a close friendship, sharing everything together. The Zhou family treated the Sun family well: they gave them a fine house beside the road to live in and Zhou Yu paid his respects to Sun Ce’s mother, the Lady Wu.[3]

About late 191 or early 192 Sun Jian died fighting Huang Zu 黃祖, an officer of Liu Biao 劉表. Sun Ce was 17 years of age at that time. Together with his family he left the Zhous and went back for the burial ceremonies at Qu’a 曲阿 county in Wu 吳 commandery and later moved across the Yangzi river to settle in Jiangdu 江都 county in Guangling 廣陵 commandery, Xu Province 徐州.[4] He maintained his aim of revenge for the death of his father.[n 2]

Zhou Yu and Sun Ce serving Yuan ShuEdit

In 193 Sun Jian's former commander Yuan Shu had lost several successive encounters with Cao Cao 曹操 and was driven back to the county city Shouchun 壽春 in Jiujiang 九江 commandery, Yang Province.[5] Sun Ce sought appointment under Yuan Shu and some of his father’s former troops took service with him.[1][6] Yuan Shu was impressed with Sun Ce and sent him to Danyang 丹楊 commandery, where his maternal uncle Wu Jing 吳景 was Grand Administrator and his cousin Sun Ben 孫賁 a Chief Commandant. Sun Ce stayed in Danyang for some months, but one time was unexpectadly attacked and almost killed in a skirmish with one Zu Lang 祖郎 of the hills-people in the south of Danyang. He regrouped and went back north to Yuan Shu. He arrived there in 194.[7]

Also in 194, Zhou Yu’s uncle Zhou Shang 周尚 was named Administrator of Danyang 丹楊 commandery by Yuan Shu, and Zhou Yu went with him.[3]

In 195 Sun Ce asked Yuan Shu if he could join up with Wu Jing in Danyang commandery again, who were under the attack of the rising warlord Liu Yao 劉繇.[8] Liu Yao was earlier taken into Qu’a by Wu Jing, but had grown in power and now opposed him. He drove Wu Jing and Sun Ben from Qu’a, who set up a base at Liyang 歷陽 - the county city of Jiujiang commandery, and occupied Danyang commandery. Fighting between these two groups continued but it was Liu Yao who was slowly gaining more control. That’s when Sun Ce asked Yuan Shu if he could go to support his relatives.[9]

Sun Ce was allotted only about a thousand foot-soldiers and some thirty or forty horsemen, but he had a few hundred personal followers who were prepared to go with him, and he had the usual authority to recruit or impress men as he marched.[8] Sun Ce left Shouchun with some fifteen hundred men, and he arrived at Liyang with five or six thousand. There he joined the other commanders, and they made plans to cross the Yangzi river.[8] Though still of young age (20), it appears that Sun Ce had command of the operation even when he arrived at his relatives’ in Liyang. As mentioned earlier Zhou Yu’s uncle Zhou Shang was at this time Grand Administrator of Danyang. Zhou Yu brought soldiers to welcome Sun Ce and again gave him help with supplies and food. Sun Ce was delighted, saying: "I have found you; we are a pair!"[10] Zhou Yu and Sun Ce defeated Liu Yao, and though Liu Yao survived, he fled and would no longer form a threat to Sun Ce and Zhou Yu.

Zhou Yu then joined Sun Ce in his conquests of the crossingplaces Hengjiang 橫江 and Dangli 當利[n 3] and achieved success. They crossed the Yangtze River and captured Moling 秣陵, defeating Ze Rong 笮融 and Xue Li 薛禮. They also conquered Hushu 湖孰, Jiangcheng 江乘 and Qu'e 曲阿. By this time Sun Ce had accumulated a force reaching the tens of thousands.

Leaving Yuan ShuEdit


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  1. or 16 years of age by Chinese reckoning.
  2. Sun Jian was killed by Huang Zu’s men during the Battle of Xiangyang; Sun Ce wanted to avenge his late father by killing Huang Zu, but he would never succeed. His aim of revenge was continued by Sun Quan and Zhou Yu, who did succeed.
  3. Hengjiang and Dangli were reaches and crossingplaces of the Yangzi river in Danyang commandery, opposite of Liyang.

Fact vs. FictionEdit


  • …Zhou Yu did not have a rivalry with Zhuge Liang.
  • …Zhou Yu’s last words were not “O God, since thou made Zhou Yu, why did thou also create Zhuge Liang?”


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 de Crespigny, To Establish Peace 1, Xingping 1.
  2. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 147.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Zhou Yu 1152-1152.
  4. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 148.
  5. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 149.
  6. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Sun Ce 764-765.
  7. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 153.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 157.
  9. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 156.
  10. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Xingping 2.