Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Zhou Yu 周瑜 is 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 Battle of 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 Ce[]

In 189 Chancellor of State 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. Among these warlords was General of the Rear Yuan Shu, and Marquis of Wucheng 烏程 Sun Jian 孫堅, went to join him. Previously, in 184 A.D., Sun Jian had aided in putting down the Yellow Turban Rebellion while his family had stayed behind in Shouchun 壽春; there, a young Zhou Yu met Sun Jian's son, a young Sun Ce, a boy of the same age, and the two developed a close friendship. So when Sun Jian left again to go on campaign against Dong Zhuo, the Zhou clan invited Sun Ce and his family, Sun Quan, Lady Wu 吳 and others, from Changsha 長沙 commandery to Shu county in Lujiang commandery.[2][3][4]

Zhou Yu, like Sun Ce, 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. There, the pair received numerous scholars and great men from between the Yangzi and Huai 淮 rivers.[5][4]

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.[6] He maintained his aim of revenge for the death of his father.[n 2]

Campaigns in Wu[]

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.[4]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[7] 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.[7] 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. Sun Ce hastily sent a message to Zhou Yu to join him and Zhou Yu brought soldiers to meet Sun Ce and again gave him help with supplies and food. Sun Ce was delighted, saying: "I have found you; we are a pair!"[9] 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 crossing-places Hengjiang 橫江 and Danglikou 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'a 曲阿. By this time Sun Ce had accumulated a force reaching the tens of thousands. Sun Ce spoke to Zhou Yu saying: "The forces I have are already sufficient to take Wu and Kuaiji, and pacify the Shanyue therein. You return to guard Danyang." So Zhou Yu returned to Danyang.

Leaving Yuan Shu[]

In 198 A.D., Yuan Shu dispatched his younger cousin Yuan Yin 袁胤 to replace Zhou Shang as Grand Administrator, so Zhou Yu and Shang returned to Shouchun. Yuan Shu desired to employ Yu as an officer, but Yu observed that Shu would never amount to much, so instead Yu requested a lesser position as Chief of Juchao 居巢.

As Zhou Yu led several hundred men to his new post, he sought out Lu Su 魯肅. From Lu Su, Zhou Yu requested he supply him with provisions. Lu Su provided him with a granary filled with 3,000 hu of rice; from that moment on, Zhou Yu took notice of Lu Su and grew close to him. Lu Su was also invited by Yuan Shu to take a post, but he too thought little of Yuan Shu; so he led 100 or so men to Juchao to meet up with Zhou Yu and the two crossed the Yangzi into Wu to join Sun Ce.[10]

Sun Ce personally came out to welcome Zhou Yu, immediately supplying him with 2,000 men, 50 cavaliers, and the rank of General of the Gentlemen of the Household Who Establishes Awe. Sun Ce also furnished Zhou Yu with drums, pipes, and a residence; there were none treated with the respect shown to Zhou Yu. Sun Ce sent out a decree saying: "Zhou Yu is illustrious, brave and unique of talent, we share everything like we were flesh and blood. Earlier in Danyang, he brought forth men, boats and provisions in order to facilitate my great work. It is considered virtuous to compensate meritorious service, but even this is not sufficient compensation."[11]

At this time, everyone in Wu referred to Zhou Yu as 'Gentleman Zhou'. Because Zhou Yu's grace and trustworthiness were well known in Lujiang commandery, he went out to fortify Niuzhu 牛渚, before being appointed Chief of Chungu 春穀.

A short while later, Sun Ce desired to take Jing Province, Zhou Yu was appointed Protector of the Army of the Centre and Grand Administrator of Jiangxia 江夏; and they led 20,000 footmen and seized Huan 皖 city.[12] There, they met the two daughters of Lord Qiao, both were exceptionally beautiful. Sun Ce married the elder daughter and Zhou Yu married the younger. Sun Ce would often joke that: "Although Lord Qiao's two daughters may travel far from home, because they have we two as husbands it is enough to make them happy."[13]

Sun Ce and Zhou Yu continued on to Xunyang 尋陽 where they defeated Grand Administrator of Lujiang Liu Xun 劉勳, then planned to attack Jiangxia 江夏, before returning to settle Yuzhang 豫章 and Luling 廬陵 commanderies. Zhou Yu then returned to defend Baqiu 巴丘.[14]

Service to Sun Quan[]

In 200 A.D., Sun Ce passed away and Zhou Yu returned to Wu for the funeral. At this time, Sun Quan would only have been about 17 years of age, yet important individuals like Chief Clerk Zhang Zhao 張昭 and Zhou Yu convinced others that under him, great work could be accomplished, and convinced other worthy men to attach themselves to him. Zhou Yu was appointed Protector of the Army at the Centre and, along with officers like Cheng Pu 程普 and Lu Fan 呂範, was given command of the military, while ministers like Zhang Zhao had authority in civil matters.[15] Being so inexperienced, many of the Wu officers and retainers only showed simple courtesy to Sun Quan. But Zhou Yu alone was the first to show the utmost courtesy and show conduct befitting a minister.

In an attempt to convince Lu Su to join Sun Quan, Zhou Yu said: "In former times, Ma Yuan 馬援 replied to Emperor Guangwu 光武 saying[n 4]: 'In the present age, it is not merely lord's selecting their ministers, ministers also select their lords.' At present, the ruler is getting close to able and virtuous persons, and noble scholars. He employs those that are special and takes not of their unique achievement. Furthermore, I hear that the foremost sages have secretly discussed that those to supplant the Liu clan will certainly flourish in the southeast and work to promote the current state of affairs, even when he is young. In the end he will have established the foundations of the Emperor; in order to assist Heaven's will, the ardent scholar ascends with the dragon and attaches themselves to the phoenix. I thoroughly understand this, but you seem to be in two minds on this because of Liu Ye's 劉曄 words."[16]

By 202 A.D., Cao Cao had recently defeated Yuan Shao 袁紹 and was beginning to consolidate power in the northern regions by fighting against Yuan Shao's sons. He sent a letter to Sun Quan reproaching him for not sending his son as a hostage and a sign of fealty.[n 5] Sun Quan summoned ministers like Zhang Zhao and Qin Song 秦松 to discuss what to do, but they could not reach consensus.[n 6]

Thereupon, Zhou Yu and Sun Quan mother, Lady Wu, came forward to give their opinion. Zhou Yu said: "In former times, the Chu leaders were first enfeoffed in the land by Mt. Jing, which did not cover more than 100 li, yet they were succeeded by worthy, capable heirs, who expanded their territory, opened borders and established a foundation at Ying 郢. They controlled the lands of Jing and Yang provinces, reaching down to the southern sea; and passed down their achievements for over 900 years.[n 7][17]

"At present, General, you have assumed your father's and elder brother's resources, and simultaneously command the forces of six commanderies. Your soldiers are well-trained, your provisions abundant, and your officers and soldiers all will heed your commands. Mine the hills to get copper and boil the seas to get salt, then within your borders will be abundant wealth and men will not think of sowing disorder. At dawn, set afloat the boats, raise the sails and sail till dusk. Your soldiers' spirits are stalwart and courageous, wherever you head they will have no match, what can threaten you? Yet you want to send a hostage?

"Once a hostage has been sent, the Cao clan and you will be like head and tail, respectively; in that situation, he is summons you, you will have no choice but to follow his directions, he will have complete control over you. You will achieve no more than a single marquisate, control merely a dozen servants, a few chariots, and a few horses; how is that the same as facing south and proclaiming yourself a solitary man?! It would be better not to send a hostage and patiently observe the changes in the north.[n 8] If the Cao clan can command righteous in order to correct the whole empire, it would not yet be too late to serve him, General. If he plans to sow oppression and disorder, his soldiers will be like fire, if he is not careful they shall certainly burn down what he has wrought. General, you are courageous and majestic, and submit to the mandate of Heaven, what's this about sending hostages!"

Sun Quan's mother then said: "Zhou Yu's argument is right. Zhou Yu and Sun Ce were the same age, save a single month, and I regard him as a son too. You should treat him as though he were your elder brother." So Sun Quan did not end up sending a hostage.[18]

Cao Cao had heard that although Zhou Yu was young he was very talented and was hoping he could convince him to defect.[n 9] He dispatched Jiang Gan 蔣幹 of Jiujiang 九江 to secretly go and persuade him. Jiang Gan was a talented debater and no one from between the Yangzi and Huai rivers could overcome him. Thereupon, Jiang Gan donned plain linen clothes and set off to visit Zhou Yu.

Zhou Yu came out to welcome him, saying: "Jiang Gan you have gone through great hardship, coming from afar, fording rivers and lakes just to act as a mouthpiece for the Cao clan."

Jiang Gan said: "You and I are are both natives of this province yet have never met. From afar I have heard of your passion, hence I have come here to converse with you and observe you in action. Yet you say I am a mouthpiece, why?"

Zhou Yu said: "Although I am not as good as Kui 夔 or Shi Kuang 曠, if I hear a bowstring I can appreciate the sound and know enough to recognise an elegant melody."[n 10]

Zhou Yu then invited Jiang Gan to enter his camp where he prepared alcohol and food. Once they had finished he sent Jiang Gan away, saying: "I have secret affairs to attend to, you can go wait in the lodging I have prepared for you. Once my business is done, I will invite you back."

After three days, Zhou Yu invited Jiang Gan to tour his camp and showed him the storehouses full of military equipment. Once completed, they returned to feast again and Zhou Yu brought out attendants in finery, laden with treasures and ornaments. He then said to Jiang Gan: "A great man in the world has met the master who can appreciate him. Outwardly, we behave with the courtesy of ruler and subject, but inside we are joined as blood-brothers. He approves anything I suggest and he always agrees to my plans. In fortune or misfortune, we share it.[19]

"If Su Qin or Zhang Yi were still alive, or old man Li Yiji came back, I would still discount their words. How could someone as young and inexperienced as you sway me?" Jiang Gan merely laughed and had nothing more to say.

Jiang Gan returned to Cao Cao and proclaimed Zhou Yu's elegance with words and high-spiritedness, and how words would not cause him to defect.[20]

In 206 A.D., Zhou Yu oversaw Sun Yu 孫瑜 and others in attacking camps at Ma 麻 and Bao 保,[21] he beheaded their great commanders and took prisoner over 10,000 people before returning to reinforce Guanting (官亭).

Grand Administrator of Jiangxia 江夏 Huang Zu 黃祖 dispatched his officer Deng Long 鄧龍 to lead 1,000 men to Chaisang 柴桑, Zhou Yu struck his forces and captured Deng Long alive then sent him to Wu.

In 208 A.D., Sun Quan headed west to Jiangxia to avenge the deaths of his father and brother at the hands of Huang Zu. Zhou Yu was appointed Great Commander of the Front Division.

Battle of Chibi[]

Main article: Battle of Chibi

In the ninth month of that same year, Cao Cao had annexed the northern territories and had begun his campaign south. Liu Cong 劉琮 had already brought all the masses of Jing province to surrender to Cao Cao, men and boats numbering several hundreds of thousands; Cao Cao also sent a letter to Sun Quan boasting of his forces and stating his gaze was fixed southward, so all officers and soldiers were dreading his advance. Liu Bei's 劉備 force had already been crushed by Cao Cao and he wanted to flee south across the Yangzi, he met with Lu Su at Dangyang 當陽 and together they laid the groundwork to form an alliance against the northern army, before retreating east to Xiakou 夏口. Liu Bei dispatched his advisor Zhuge Liang to accompany Lu Su back to Wu and establish a formal alliance.

Sun Quan invited his subordinates together to discuss plans to deal with Cao Cao, all his advisors said: "Lord Cao is like a jackal or tiger, nevertheless he has been entrusted with the title of Han Imperial Chancellor, and he wields the Son of Heaven and the imperial court in order to justify invading in all directions; so if you refuse him today, it would seem as though you are being disobedient to the Emperor."

They went on to say: "But now, Cao Cao has obtained the entirety of Jing Province, including control of Liu Biao's 劉表 fleet and warships, numbering several thousand, which float along the Yangzi; so his forces can simultaneously advance by both land and water. The Yangzi River is a critical line of defence, yet Cao Cao already occupies it with us. While our situation is strong, our forces are few, and they cannot match Cao Cao's. I humbly suggest that the best plan is to welcome him"

At this time, Zhou Yu had been sent to Poyang 鄱陽, so Lu Su urged Sun Quan to recall him to ask for advice.[22][n 11] Zhou Yu returned to Wu and said to Sun Quan: "What your advisors have told you is incorrect. Although Cao Cao has been entrusted with the title of Han Imperial Chancellor, in reality he is a traitor. General, you have both divine military prowess and grand talent, while simultaneously you can rely on your father's and elder brother's ardent troops. You have control of the land east of the Yangzi, a territory covering several thousand li, enough elite soldiers to control it, and mighty heroes who volunteer to serve you. You should march across the whole empire eliminating oppression and removing the corrupt in the name of the Han.

"Moreover, Cao Cao himself courts death in coming, yet you would welcome him. General, I suggest you consider this: supposing the northern lands were already pacified, then Cao Cao would harbour no anxiety and could contest your borders in a protracted campaign; and also, compare Cao Cao with me in his ability to succeed or fail when it comes to naval warfare. In reality, at present the northern territory is not yet pacified, additionally, Ma Chao 馬超 and Han Sui 韓遂 are still active west of the passes and are a permanent threat to Cao Cao's rear. Furthermore, he is abandoning cavalry and relies on naval vessels to vie for dominance with the men of Wu and Yue, despite the central states ineptitude in such matters.

"Also we are now in the heart of winter, his horses have no feed, and Cao Cao is driving his forces from afar to ford the Yangzi River and lakes; nor have are his forces accustomed to the marshland and will certainly contract diseases. Yet given these four points, Cao Cao risks them all to travel here. General, the chance to capture Cao Cao is today. I request 30,000 elite soldier to take to Xiakou 夏口 and I guarantee I can defeat him, General."

Sun Quan replied, saying: "The old traitor has long desired to dethrone the Han Emperor and install himself, the only thing holding him back has been the two Yuan, Lü Bu 呂布, Liu Biao and myself. Now, they have all been exterminated and I alone still survive. The old traitor and me, we cannot both stand in this world. Sir, you say we should strike, that is very much in accordance with my own thoughts, it is as though Heaven has awarded you to me."

Sun Quan then drew his sword and chopped through the table in front of him, saying: "Any officer or official who dares talk further of welcoming Cao Cao will share the fate of this table!"

That night, Zhou Yu requested a meeting with Sun Quan to say: "The only information many men have regarding Cao Cao, is Cao Cao's own letter; it speaks of 800,000 men coming by boat and foot and so each is dreading his arrival without having questioned its veracity. With that in mind this discussion was pointless. Now let's consider the reality of the situation, Cao Cao brought his own forces from the central plains, this would be no more than 150-160,000; furthermore, his army has marched far and will be fatigued; the forces he acquired from Liu Biao would be 70-80,000 at most, and their hearts have not yet turned to him. So, Lord Cao commands fatigued and sick soldiers, and impels forward doubtful forces, so although his forces are abundant its not yet sufficient to be in great awe of him. If I obtain 50,000 elite soldiers, it will certainly be sufficient to control him. General, do not dwell on this."

Sun Quan patted him on the back and said: "Zhou Yu, your words until now are very much in accordance with my own. Zhang Zhao, Qin Song and the others, each thought about their wives and children and hold on to personal concerns. I have deeply disappointed in them. Alone, you, Lu Su and I are of the same mind, Heaven has commended you two men to me. 50,000 men will be difficult to collect, but choose 30,000 men and make ready the boats, provisions, and weapons; and you, Lu Su and Lord Cheng Pu 程普 can lead them out now, meanwhile I will stay behind to send additional forces, transport provisions and act as our rearguard. You can mete out justice to Cao Cao, but, if unexpectedly you are not equal to the task then I will decide this with Cao Cao myself."[23]

Sun Quan appointed Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu as Controllers of the Left and Right, overseeing 10,000 men each. Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu led 30,000 Wu soldiers[24] to rendezvous with Liu Bei's forces.

At that time, Liu Bei was stationed at Fankou 樊口 in E 鄂 county; he knew Cao Cao's army was approaching and dreading the encounter, and every day he would send officials to patrol the river and look for signs of Sun Quan's army. One of the patrols saw the Wu boats and hurriedly went to inform Liu Bei. Liu Bei asked: "How do you know they were not from the northern army?"

"Because I know their boats," replied the official. So Liu Bei sent men to receive him. Zhou Yu said: "I have a military duty and cannot shirk my responsibilities. If you could condescend [to come to me], truly I would assist you in whatever you wish."

When Liu Bei heard his response he spoke to his generals Guan Yu 關羽 and Zhang Fei 張飛 saying: "He wants me to come see him, I'm currently allied with and relying on the east, if I do not go I will not be showing the feelings of a sworn ally."

Thereupon, Liu Bei rode a solitary barge to meet Zhou Yu and asked him: "Now you are here to resist Lord Cao, my plans are ready. How many troops do you have?"

"30,000," replied Zhou Yu. To which Liu Bei said: "I regret that is too few."

But Zhou Yu replied: "These are certainly sufficient for the task. You need merely observe me break them."

Liu Bei wasn't convinced and wanted to summon Lu Su to discuss the matter further. Zhou Yu said:

"Having received a command, I cannot rashly shirk my duty. If you wish to see Zijing 子敬 [i.e., Lu Su], you can separately go to him. Besides, Kongming (i.e., Zhuge Liang) has come with me and will be here within two or three days."

Liu Bei was disconcerted, but also impressed by Zhou Yu's attitude, yet in his heart he was not yet completely confident in Zhou Yu's abilities to defeat Cao Cao so he keep 2,000 men, including Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, at the rear so that they wouldn't be embroiled in fighting and could flee if the situation became dire.[25][n 12]

In the November[26], the allied forces faced off against Cao Cao's on the Yangzi river at Chibi 赤壁. As Zhou Yu had predicted, Cao Cao's forces had already begun battling with sickness and the two sides had already engaged in one conflict which Cao Cao's had lost and pulled back to the northern shore, whilst the Wu forces occupied the southern shore.

Zhou Yu's divisional commander, Huang Gai 黃蓋 said to him:

"At present the invaders are numerous and we few; it will be difficult to contain them for long. However, I have observed Cao Cao's warship have been chained head to tail, we could set fire to them and put them to flight."

Zhou Yu thought Huang Gai's plan was sound and thereupon prepared several dozen boats[n 13], and filled them with flamables. Huang Gai then made use his fireboats and a strong southeasterly wind to set fire to much of Cao Cao's fleet. Zhou Yu followed up Huang Gai's success by attacking Cao Cao's camp at Wulin 烏林. Cao Cao set fire to his remaining fleet at fled back west; Zhou Yu, Liu Bei and their forces in hot pursuit by both land and water chased him into Nan 南 commandery. The combination of fire, water, sickness and starvation had devastated Cao Cao's forces, leaving more than half of them dead and annihilating his new fleet.[27][28][29]

After having defeated the Wei forces at Chibi, Zhou Yu's prestigious reputation was known far and wide, but Cao Cao said he was not ashamed at the loss. He sent Sun Quan a letter saying: "The victory at Chibi resulted from disease, I burned my own boats and retreated, Zhou Yu's reputation from that is unduely deserved." It was said that both Cao Cao and Liu Bei maligned Zhou Yu as an attempt to reduce his prestige.[30]

Battle of Jiangling[]

Main article: Battle of Jiangling

Cao Cao retreated back north but left General Who Subdues the South Cao Ren 曹仁 and General Who Traverses the Open Country Xu Huang 徐晃 behind to defend Jiangling 江陵 to resist the advancing Wu forces.

Cao Ren held a firm line of defence on the north bank of the Yangzi, preventing the Wu forces from crossing, and for over a year and the soldiers had not yet had a confrontation.[31] Gan Ning 甘寧 requested the opportunity to take his personal forces and establish a bridgehead at Yiling 夷陵, which he quickly captured after storming the city. However, Cao Ren sent 5-6,000 men to surround Gan Ning's position and soon he found himself in trouble, having less than 300 personal troops in addition to those from Yiling willing to serve him.[32]

Many officers did not think they had sufficient force to rescue Gan Ning, but Lü Meng 呂蒙convinced Zhou Yu that Ling Tong 凌統 alone would be sufficient to leave behind and kept Cao Ren in check, and Zhou Yu agreed. Lü Meng's plan was successful and the Wu forces were able to relieve Gan Ning, deal a serious blow to Cao Ren's detachment and establish a camp on the northern shore of the Yangzi.[33]

Zhou Yu commanded several tens of thousands of men but sent a vanguard several 1,000 strong to establish a position at Jiangling. Cao Ren ascended the walls of Jiangling and noticed that the vanguard did not number many men so he dispatched his divisional commander Niu Jin 牛金 with 300 soldiers to skirmish with the enemy. Unfortunately for Niu Jin, he got himself surrounded and required Cao Ren to come out personally and rescue him.[34]

Zhou Yu's main force arrived and engaged Cao Ren in a great battle. Zhou Yu personally fought on the front lines but was struck by a stray arrow in his right side; the wound was severe so he was forced to withdraw. Later, Cao Ren heard that Zhou Yu had been wounded and was bedridden, so compelled his soldiers to take advantage of the situation and attack the enemy lines. However, Zhou Yu pulled himself to his feet, inspected the military camp and rallying the officials and soldiers to action. Cao Ren was unable to win and was forced to retreat north.

Zhou Yu's main force arrived and engaged Cao Ren in a great battle. Zhou Yu personally fought on the front lines but was struck by a stray arrow in his right side; the wound was severe so he was forced to withdraw. Later, Cao Ren heard that Zhou Yu had been wounded and was bedridden, so compelled his soldiers to take advantage of the situation and attack the enemy lines. However, Zhou Yu pulled himself to his feet, inspected the military camp and rallying the officials and soldiers to action. Cao Ren was unable to win and was forced to retreat north.

Sun Quan conferred Zhou Yu with the rank of Lieutenant-General, appointed him Grand Administrator of Nan commandery, garrisoned at Jiangling, and gave him a fief of Xiajuan 下雋, Hanchang 漢昌, Liuyang 劉陽, and Zhouling 州陵. Liu Bei was appointed General of the Left and Governor of Jing province and garrisoned at Gong'an 公安. However, Liu Bei felt the territory allocated to him was too meagre and went to the capital to visit Sun Quan and request a larger territory.[35]

Zhou Yu sent a memorial to the court saying: "Liu Bei is ruthless and powerful, and he has officers like Guan Yu and Zhang Fei who are like bears and tigers; he will certainly not stoop to being someone else's servant for long. In my humble opinion, the best plan would be to relocate Liu Bei to Wu, construct for him a great palace, ply him with many beautiful women to please his eyes and ears. Split up Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, place each is a different region and have them serve under one of your officers, like myself, in battle. In this way you can achieve your grand designs. Now, you cede territory in order to support him, while he holds onto those two all within one region, I am afraid it would be like Yinglong the rain dragon reaching the rain clouds, he will never again return to the pool."

However, with Cao Cao still looming large in the north, Sun Quan still wanted to attract mighty heroes to his cause and wanted to show he treated powerful men like Liu Bei justly. In addition, he was afraid that controlling someone like Liu Bei would be too difficult, hence he did not accept Zhou Yu's idea.[n 14]

As Liu Bei was leaving the capital, Sun Quan gave him a great banquet on a great boat alongside a dozen of his high officials, like Zhang Zhao, Qin Song and Lu Su, in order to see him off. As the feast began to wind down, person after person left, leaving only Sun Quan and Liu Bei. Sun Quan was talking about Zhou Yu, when Liu Bei sighed and said:

"Regarding his civil and martial planning, Zhou Yu is outstanding among countless men. Considering his immense talent, I fear he will not long serve as a vassal to another man."[36]

In the far west at this time, Governor of Yi province Liu Zhang 劉璋 was dealing with invasions from Zhang Lu 張魯 to his north. Zhou Yu therefore went to the capital to visit Sun Quan and said:

"At present Cao Cao has recently suffered a great defeat in battle and this will have shaken his conviction, nor is he in any state to fight with us again, General. I beg that you let myself and General Who Displays Majesty Sun Yu 孫瑜 go and take Shu, with Shu and Zhang Lu's territory yours, you can leave Sun Yu firmly entrenched there and establish an alliance with Ma Chao. I will return, and together, General, we can apply pressure on Cao Cao's forces from Xiangyang 襄陽 and look to take the north."[n 15]

Sun Quan accepted his plan and Zhou Yu returned to Jiangling to make preparations for the campaign. However, on his way at Baqiu[n 16][37] he became ill.

Zhou Yu's Death[]

Zhou Yu was seriously ill and he sent one final memorial to the court, saying: "I have ordinary talent. In former times I was shown special favour by General Who Exterminates Rebels Sun Ce, part of his inner circle, bearing the burden of an honoured position, commanded soldiers and horses, held a whip to command, and was engaged in warfare. I advised you settle Ba and Shu, then take Xiangyang. By relying on your majesty and intelligence it could be said to already be in your grasp. But I was not careful and on the road I exposed myself to illness. Yesterday, I sought medical treatment, but it has been a day and I have not gotten any better. But death is a part of life, whether it is enriching or lacking is entirely up to fate, indeed it is not worth making a fuss over. I merely regret that my trifling aspirations have not yet been unfurled and that I will never again be subject to your intructions and commands.

"At present, the whole empire is embroiled in conflict, therefore from morning till night my heart is full of worry. Lord Cao is in the north; the borders are not yet tranquil; Liu Bei lodges nearby in Gong'an, which is like feeding a tiger; and do not yet know how the affairs of the empire will develop. It is because of these that court scholar work late and is a constant source of concern for yourself. The common people have not yet attached themselves to you so you should obtain good officers in order to guard and comfort them.

"Lu Su is loyal, ardent, sufficiently wise in strategy, and in the face of responsibilities is not negligent, and I beg you choose him to replace me. When a man is about to die, his word carry the most weight. If you would select him, then on the day I fall from the sky, I shall have no regrets."[38][39][n 17]

In 210 A.D. at the age of 35[n 18], Zhou Yu passed away. Sun Quan wore mourning garments and his grief over the loss touched others. His body was brought back to Wu for the funeral and Sun Quan went out to Wuhu 蕪湖 to receive him, and covered the expenses for the funeral.

When Zhou Yu died, Sun Quan wept and said of him:

"Zhou Yu was one to assist a king. Now that he has died at such a young age, who can I rely on!"[40]

Zhou Yu was magnanimous and open-hearted. He was a great commander so people flocked to him, and only with Cheng Pu was he not harmonious. Because of Cheng Pu's age, he would consider himself the senior officer; this raised serious issues during the battle at Chibi, where Sun Quan appointed them both as equally ranked, so Cheng Pu would frequently abase him.

Lü Meng later commented to Sun Quan on how the command structure was precarious at Chibi, saying: "Cheng Pu and Zhou Yu served as commanders of the Left and Right, and together they attacked Jiangling. Although matters were decided by Zhou Yu, Cheng Pu was also relied on because he was a veteran soldier. They were both overseeing affairs and thus disharmonious, and this almost spoiled the affairs of the state."[41]

However, because Zhou Yu chose to turn the other cheek and continued to show Cheng Pu proper respect despite Cheng Pu's conduct, he later began to admire him and the two became quite close. Cheng Pu would say: "A meeting with Zhou Yu is like drinking a strong wine. You do not notice yourself becoming drunk."

When Zhou Yu was young he had a keen ear for music; even after having three goblets of wine he could still detect if a musical tune had a fault. Hence occasionally people would say: "If a tune has a mistake, Gentleman Zhou will notice it."

Later, when Sun Quan proclaimed himself Emperor of Wu, he spoke to his ministers, saying: "If not for Zhou Yu, I would not be Emperor."[42]

Some time later, Sun Quan was with Lu Xun 陸遜 discussing his past advisors: Lu Su, Lü Meng, and Zhou Yu. He said of Zhou Yu:

"Zhou Yu was mighty and ardent, in courage and strategy he was twice any man. He crushed Cao Cao and opened up Jing province, his achievements are so profound that it is difficult to find his worthy successor, but sir, you now become one."[43]

Zhou Yu's Legacy[]

Zhou Yu's second son, Zhou Yin 周胤, received both rank and nobility because of his lineage, however, because of some criminal behaviour he was exiled to Luling commandery 廬陵. In 239 A.D. in response to Zhou Yin's exiling, Zhuge Jin 諸葛瑾 and Bu Zhi 步騭 jointly signed a memorial to the court saying:

"Son of former general Zhou Yu, Zhou Yin, was showered with favour and decorations, he was subject to enfeoffment and appointed a general, but he was unable to cultivate this good fortune, or think of establishing accomplishments or efficacy, instead pursuing his vices and quickly incurring crimes and punishment.
"We believe, because in former times, Zhou Yu was shown favour and appointment; entered office and served as our heart and backbone; went forth to battle and served as our claws and teeth; held commands to go subdue our enemies, personally withstanding arrows and slings. To the utmost he showed proper conduct, took commands, and was willing to face death, hence he devastated Cao Cao at Wulin and put to flight Cao Ren at Jiangling[n 19], raised the state's prestige and virtue, and had the Central Plains[n 20] shaking, and in Jing province there were none who did not submit. Although the Zhou dynasty had Fangshu 方叔[n 21], the Han dynasty had Han Xin and Ying Bu, they were not as valuable as Zhou Yu[n 22].
"Since ancient times, whether an Emperor or a King, there were none who did not consider a subject who clashes and defends against adversity as being precious. Hence Emperor Liu Bang enfeoffed them with nobility and pledged that: 'Even if the Yellow River changed course or Mt. Tai eroded away, the state will remain indefinitely and pass on to our descendants.' With red ink, he wrote it down in a letter, swore an important oath and secured it inside an ancestral temple so it would forevr be passed down. He desired that a subject's meritorious service would be reflected upon his descendants, generation after generation until their line ran out. To recompense virtue and make known accomplishments, diligence, and earnesty; this way it would encourage them to act in order to safeguard their later generations. So subject's who obeyed commands could die and not feel regret.[n 23]
"Moreover, with regard to Zhou Yu, it has not been long since he perished yet his son Zhou Yin has been reduced to a commoner; which will only increase other's lamentation and distress.[n 24] Your Majesty, admire and understand the ancients' example and restore succession. Make Zhou Yin return to appeal and beg forgiveness for his remaining crimes. Return his soldiers and his nobility. As a rooster which misses crowing at daybreak is permitted to chance to crow another day, by embracing a subject whom has committed crimes he may later redeem himself."

Sun Quan replied, saying:

"A confidant with meritorious service who assisted me in affairs, that was Zhou Yu, and I will sincerely never forget that. In the beginning when Zhou Yin was young, he had neither accomplishments nor toils, but was unduely given elite soldiers, and given rank as a marquis and a general; as this was in commemoration of Zhou Yu.
"However, Zhou Yin relied on this, acting drunkly, obscenely, and doing as he pleased. All these things I explained to him, but he did not repent and reform. I regard Zhou Yu having the same righteousness you gentlemen do, and would be happy to see Zhou Yin succeed, how could I not?! But with respect to Zhou Yin's crimes and vices, it is not yet suitable that he return. I desire he face further hardship so that he becomes aware of his actions.
"Now, you gentlemen diligently cite Emperor Liu Bang's oath of the river and mountain, and I am ashamed. Although my virtue is not on par with his, my desires are nevertheless similar, but with affairs as they are I cannot yet resign myself to your aim. Because he is Zhou Yu's son, and while you gentlemen are in his corner; he could rectify this so why worry?!"

Zhuge Jin and Bu Zhi again sent up a memorial hoping to sway Sun Quan and had Zhu Ran 朱然 and Quan Cong 全琮 also state their support for the memorial, thereupon Sun Quan allow it. But it happened that Zhou Yin died of sickness.

Zhou Yu's nephew, Jun 峻, also received favour due to Zhou Yu's exploits. When he died, Quan Cong recommended Zhou Jun's son, Zhou Hu 護, be appointed as an officer. However, Sun Quan said to him:

"In former times, Cao Cao was put to flight and Jing province developed, both were due to Zhou Yu and I will never forget that. When I first heard that Zhou Jun perished, I desired to employ Zhou Hu. However, I heard that Zhou Hu's conduct was careless and if he was employed it would only result in disaster, hence I did not use him. I remember Zhou Yu, how has his legacy come to this?"


Cousin's Great-Grandfather

  • Zhou Rong 周榮

Cousin's Grandfather

Cousin's Father

  • Zhou Zhong 周忠 - Son of Zhou Jing. Served as Grand Commandant.


  • Zhou Yi 周異 - Served as Prefect of Luoyang.



  • Zhou Xun 周循 - Married one of Sun Quan's daughters and conferred the rank of Chief Commandant of Cavalry. He was aid to have inherited Zhou Yu's spirit, but he died young.
  • Zhou Yin 周胤 - Younger brother of Zhou Xun married a woman from the Sun clan. He was conferred the rank of Chief Commandant Who Carries on Tradition, awarded 1,000 soldiers and garrisoned at Gong'an. In 229 A.D. he was enfeoffed as a Marquis of a Chief District but was later exiled to Luling 廬陵 commandery after committing a crime.
  • Zhou Ying - In 225 A.D. she married Sun Quan's son Sun Deng.[44]


  • Zhou Shang


  • Zhou Jun - Was appointed a Lieutenant-General is honour of Zhou Yu's accomplishments, in which capacity he oversaw 1,000 officials and soldiers.

Nephew's Son

  • Zhou Hu - Sone of Zhou Jun. Quan Cong recommended him for office but Sun Quan did not think him a suitable appointment.

See also[]

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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 crossing-places of the Yangzi river in Danyang commandery, opposite of Liyang.
  4. Ma Yuan (14 B.C.-49 A.D.) was a general under Emperor Guangwu (25-57 A.D.) during the Later Han period.
  5. de Crispigny, Generals of the South, 222, notes that Sun Deng, Sun Quan's eldest son, wasn't born until 209 A.D. and so he certainly couldn't send a son of his own in 202 A.D. But also Lady Wu died in 202 A.D. and Zhou Yu died in 210 A.D. which throws into doubt the exact nature of this discussion.
  6. Sun Quan had no son at this time; so I wonder whether the discussion was not about whether or not to send a 'son' but whether to send a suitable hostage, say Sun Quan's younger brother.
  7. Xiong Yi of Chu settled Mt. Jing and was appointed a regional ruler by King Cheng of Zhou. Later, Viscount Xiong Qu observed the house of Zhou was weakening and took the opportunity to expand his territory, and eventually King Wen of Chu established Ying as his residence in the south of China.
  8. Assuming the date of this is accurate, then this is presumedly referring to the conflict Cao Cao was engaged in with the sons of Yuan Shao. Although that didn't stop Zhou Yu later counselling against surrendering to Cao Cao six years later with regard to Chibi.
  9. Not sure of the date of this. Romance of the Three Kingdoms has this occurring simultaneously with the Battle of Chibi, but I think it would have occurred earlier as Zhou Yu is described as young.
  10. Kui was the legendary figure who invented music and dancing. Shi Kuang was a blind musician for the state of Jin whose music was supposedly divinatory. Zhou Yu is essentially saying 'I am not omniscient, but I know enough to pick up on subtext and figure out why you have come.'
  11. Zhou Yu's SGZ has him replying to the conversation immediately, but Lu Su's SGZ says he was at this time stationed in Poyang.
  12. It's worth noting that the encounter with Liu Bei is only recorded in the Jiangbiao zhuan (Accounts from South of the Yangzi) which is inherently biased towards Wu. Sun Sheng comments that it would be unlikely that Liu Bei would have done something as cowardly as this because he was not in a position where he could flee anywhere and still succeed; and the account from the Jiangbiao zhuan merely served to give full credit to Wu for the defeat of Cao Cao.
  13. The Jiangbiao zhuan (Accounts from South of the Yangzi) says there were only 10 boats, but the SGZ says there were several dozen.
  14. The Jiangbiao zhuan quoted in Pang Tong's SGZ also confirms Zhou Yu's words here.
  15. Basically he wants to take the southwest region then make an alliance with the warlords in the northwest so they can pressure Cao Cao from two fronts.
  16. Pei Songzhi comments that is is probably not the same Baqiu county as where Zhou Yu was earlier stationed, as that was 250 km out of the way and is more likely the mountain of the same name located by present-day Yueyang in Hunan, at the confluence of the Xiang and Yangzi.
  17. There are two separate accounts of this memorial, differing in detail but the underlying sentiment is similar. I have merged the two accounts.
  18. 36 by chinese reckoning.
  19. Text says the capital Ying, which was the capital of the Chu state during the Zhou dynasty. It was later Jiangling.
  20. I.e. Cao Cao's men. Text says Huaxia 華夏 which refers to the two cradles of Chinese people, the Xia in the west and Hua in the east along the Yellow River.
  21. Pacified the barbarian tribes of Jing province during the reign of the Zhou dynasty.
  22. Both Han Xin and Ying Bu men served Emperor Liu Bang's enemy, Xiang Yu, but defected to Liu Bang's side, aided in the defeat of Xiang Yu, and helped establish the Han dynasty. Both, fearing that Emperor Liu Bang believed them to be rebellious and was going to execute them, ended up rebelling and eventually being killed.
  23. Basically, they're saying in return for great service, a subject's descendants will be automatically be shown favour as a way to encourage them to act to the fullest of their capacity.
  24. They're building on their previous point by saying if exploits are forgetten after a single generation it is even worse.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  • …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 de Crespigny, To Establish Peace 1, Xingping 1
  2. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Sun Ce.
  3. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 147
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Zhou Yu 1152-1152
  5. SGZ: Biography of Sun Ce
  6. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 148
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 157
  8. de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 156
  9. de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Xingping 2.
  10. SGZ: Biography of Lu Su
  11. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu
  12. SGZ: Biography of Sun Ce
  13. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu
  14. SGZ: Biography of Sun Ben
  15. SGZ: Biography of Sun Quan
  16. SGZ: Biography of Lu Su
  17. http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Zhou/rulers-chu.html
  18. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  19. de Crespigny. Chapter 66 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 14, section J
  20. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  21. SGZ: Biography of Sun Yu
  22. SGZ: Biography of Lu Su
  23. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  24. SGZ: Biography of Zhuge Liang
  25. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Liu Bei.
  26. HHS: Annals of Emperor Xian.
  27. SGZ: Biography of Sun Quan
  28. SGZ: Biography of Liu Bei
  29. SGZ: Biography of Gan Ning
  30. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  31. SGZ: Biography of Sun Quan
  32. SGZ: Biography of Gan Ning
  33. SGZ: Biography of Lü Meng.
  34. SGZ: Biography of Cao Ren
  35. SGZ: Biography of Liu Bei.
  36. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  37. de Crespigny. Chapter 66 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 15, footnote 20
  38. SGZ: Biography of Lu Su
  39. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Lu Su.
  40. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  41. SGZ: Biography of Sun Jiao
  42. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Zhou Yu.
  43. SGZ: Biography of Lü Meng.
  44. SGZ: Biography of Cheng Bing