Xiang Yu was born into a lower class farming family in Pei County. He relied on his brother's family for food. After he grew up, Xiang Yu served as a patrol officer in his county. Once, he was sent to transport a group of prisoners to Mount Li. During the trip many prisoners fled. Fearful that he would be punished for the escape, Xiang Yu offered the remaining prisoners their freedom if they would fight for him. Xiang Yu became the leader of a band of thieves.
In 209 BC, Xiang Yu sent his men to support Chen Sheng's rebellion against the Qin dynasty. Xiang Yu served under Xiang Liang and, later, Mi Xin. Prince Xin made a promise that whoever first occupied Guanzhong, the Qín homeland, should be awarded Guanzhong as his kingdom. He then sent Xiang Yu for this mission, partly because he considered him a kind and merciful man, and partly because he did not like Liu Bang. When Liu Bang was busy fighting the main force of the Qin Dynasty, Xiang Yu invaded Guanzhong.
Xiang Yu encountered Liu Bang at Hangu Pass. After Liu Bang took the Pass, Xiang Yu executed one of Liu Bang's advisor as revenge. This started the war known as the Chu-Han Contention. He lost the war and committed suicide before he could be captured by Liu Bang. According to legend, when he was surrounded by Han cavalry, he saw an old friend and said "Are you Lü Matong? I heard the Prince of Han has a great reward for my head. Here let me give you this..." After saying these words, he killed himself.