Zhou Yu was born in Lujiang District. He was raised in a famous military family, and was expected to serve as a military officer in the Han Dynasty. Instead, he took an interest in strategy and history. As a teenager, he was sent to live with Sun Jian, who took responsibility for Zhou Yu's upbringing. Zhou Yu was treated like Sun Jian's own son, and became particularly close to Sun Ce.
In 200, Sun Quan appointed Zhou Yu to the position of general. He had little actual experience with combat until 208, when he was made the commander of Wu forces during the Battle of Chi Bi. As a result of his success, he was given the title of General of Abundant Peace (风富和平), a position he held until his death in 210.