Zhou Yu styled Gongjin, hailed from Shu (name of a place) in Lu Jiang prefecture. Two of Zhou Yu’s ancestors, Zhou Jing and Zhou Zhong held the position of Tai Wei in the Han dynasty and Zhou Yu’s father was once the magistrate of Luo Yang. Zhou Yu grew up to be a handsome lad.
In the beginning when Sun Jian was raising an army to attack Dong Zhuo, he moved his family to the Shu prefecture (where Zhou Yu resided). Zhou Yu and Sun Ce were of the same age and they were on very amicable terms. Zhou Yu invited Sun Ce to stay in his mansion and paid his respects to Sun Ce’s mother. Zhou Yu’s uncle, Zhou Shang, was the Grand Administrator of Dan Yang. Soon after, when Zhou Yu was visiting his uncle, Sun Ce was coincidentally leading his armies eastward crossing the Yang Tze river and reached Li Yang. Sun Ce sent a letter to Zhou Yu who on receiving it led some troops to meet Sun Ce. Sun Ce was overjoyed to have Zhou Yu joining his forces. Subsequently, both of them managed to capture Heng Jiang and Dang Li and they crossed the river to attack Mo Ling. There, they defeated the defenders, Ze Rong, Xue Li and proceeded south to Hu Shu and Jiang Cheng. Subsequently they entered Qu Ah, forcing Liu Yao to retreat. At this time, Sun Ce’s army numbered several tens of thousands soldiers. With this army, Sun Ce felt that he could conquer the prefectures of Wu and Hui Ji, and subdued the Shan Yue tribes. As such, he told Zhou Yu to return and defend Dan Yang.
Not long after, Yuan Shu ordered his cousin, Yuan Yin, to replace Zhou Shang as the Grand Administrator of Dan Yang. Zhou Shang, together with Zhou Yu, returned to Shou Chun. At that time, Yuan Shu contemplated on employing Zhou Yu but Zhou Yu felt that he could not achieve much by working under Yuan Shu. As such, Zhou Yu requested Yuan Shu to appoint him as the magistrate of Ju Jiao, which would give him the opportunity to return to Jiang Dong. Not knowing the true motive of Zhou Yu, Yuan Shu approved his request and gave him the appointment.
In Jian An 3rd year, Sun Ce welcomed Zhou Yu into his forces personally and conferred Zhou Yu the rank of Jian Wei Jiang Jun. In addition, he dispatched 2,000 troops and 50 horses to be placed under the command of Zhou Yu. During then, Zhou Yu was 24 years old and people in the Wu prefecture would refer to him as Zhou Lang (or “Young Gentleman Zhou”) Zhou Yu’s charitable and trustworthy nature was well known in the Lu Jiang region and he was ordered to defend Niu Zhu. Subsequently, he was given the appointment of the magistrate of Chun Gu.
Soon, Sun Ce decided to attack Jing Zhou and Zhou Yu was given the appointment of Zhong Fu Jun and the Grand Administrator of Jiang Xia. They launched an attack and captured the city of Wan. During then, Sun Ce and Zhou Yu married the daughters of Qiao Gong who were great beauties (their names were not mentioned). Following which, they reinitiated the attack at Xun Yang and defeated Liu Xun. Thereafter, they attacked Jiang Xia prefecture and diverted their armies back to subjugate Yu Zhang and Lu Ling. Zhou Yu was then tasked to defend Ba Qiu.
In Jian An 5th year, Sun Ce passed away and Sun Quan took over his place as the overall commander. Zhou Yu returned for the funeral. Back at the Wu prefecture, Zhang Zhao (who was holding the appointment of Chang Shi) and Zhou Yu were made jointly in-charge of the State’s affairs.
In Jian An 11th year, Zhou Yu, Sun Yu and some others attacked Ma Tun and Bao Tun. They beheaded their chieftains and took approximately 10,000 people in captivity. Soon after the Grand Administrator of Jiang Xia, Huang Zhu, dispatched Deng Long with several thousands soldiers to attack Chai Sang. Zhou Yu retaliated and captured Deng Long alive.
In the spring of Jian An 13th year, Sun Quan attacked Jiang Xia and appointed Zhou Yu as the commander of the front army. During this year, Cao Cao’s army invaded Jing Zhou and LiuZong, together with his officials and soldiers, surrendered to Cao Cao. As such, Cao Cao’s army was boosted by several tens of thousands infantry soldiers and the naval forces of Jing Zhou. This event frightened many of the generals in Jiang Dong and Sun Quan gathered them to seek their opinions. The majority of the generals present were in favor of surrendering. Some of their main reasons were as follows:
However, Zhou Yu disagreed with those points of view. He argued that Cao Cao’s southern expedition had several weaknesses. Firstly, Zhou Yu noted that Cao Cao was actually a traitor of Han even though he was holding the appointment of the Prime Minister of Han. Cao Cao’s northern provinces were not completely stable and he had to worry about Ma Chao and Han Sui at his rear (in Guan Xi). Secondly, Cao Cao’s northern army was not familiar with naval combat unlike the southerners. Thirdly, the season at that moment was winter and the army of Cao Cao would likely be tired due to the long matches from the north. Finally, if they were not accustomed to the climate in the south, it was likely that they would be plagued with illnesses. As such, Zhou Yu felt that the situation during then provided the best opportunity to capture Cao Cao alive and he requested Sun Quan for 30,000 elite soldiers to be stationed at Xia Kou. Zhou Yu further guaranteed Sun Quan that he would be able to defeat Cao Cao. Hearing that, Sun Quan’s resolve to resist Cao Cao was strengthened.
At that moment, Liu Bei was defeated by Cao Cao and he met Lu Su at Dang Yang. In the meeting, both devised plans for alliance against Cao Cao. Subsequently, Liu Bei stationed himself at Xia Kou. In addition, Liu Bei sent Zhuge Liang as an envoy to Sun Quan. Following that, Sun Quan dispatched Zhou Yu, Cheng Pu and other Wu generals to meet Liu Bei in order to consolidate their forces against Cao Cao’s army. The army of the Sun-Liu alliance engaged Cao Cao’s army at Chi Bi. During then, Cao Cao’s army was already having problems with many soldiers falling sick. As such, during the initial engagement, Cao Cao’s army was promptly defeated and retreated back to the northern shore of the river Yang Tze.
Seeing that Cao Cao’s army was numerous, Huang Gai felt that it would be difficult to resist them for long. However, he observed that Cao Cao’s ships were linked together and he suggested to Zhou Yu that it was actually possible to repel the enemies if they launched a fire attack at them. The suggestion was accepted and preparations were made for the fireboats (boats stuffed with inflammable materials). Subsequently, a letter was sent to Cao Cao falsely claiming that Huang Gai intended to surrender. The ruse was successful and the soldiers of Wei were anticipating the arrival of Huang Gai. At that moment, Huang Gai arrived and set his fireboats on fire. Aided by the strong winds and the fact that Cao Cao’s ships were chained together, the fire quickly spread throughout Cao Cao’s navy and even to the naval camps on the shore. Within moments, the raging inferno resulted in heavy casualties in Cao Cao’s army. Cao Cao was forced to retreat and defend Nan prefecture against the victorious allied armies. Meanwhile, Liu Bei and Zhou Yu led their troops in pursuit. Nevertheless, Cao Cao himself had returned to the north after leaving Cao Ren to guard the city of Jiang Ling.
Soon after, Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu launched an attack at Nan prefecture, which was defended by Cao Ren. The attacking troops and the defenders camped on the opposite banks of the great river. Before the engagement, Zhou Yu dispatched Gan Ning to station himself at Yi Ling. Seeing that, Cao Ren divided his forces and sent troops to attack Gan Ning. Faced with Cao Ren’s forces, Lu sent a letter to Zhou Yu requesting for help. On the advice of Lü Meng, Zhou Yu left Ling Tong to guard the rear and proceeded with Lü Meng to save Gan Ning. Having relieved Gan Ning, Zhou Yu led his troops across the river and prepared for a decisive battle with Cao Ren at a specified date. On the day of battle, Zhou Yu personally led his troops into the foray but was hit by an arrow on the right side of his chest, forcing him to retreat. Cao Ren got news of Zhou Yu’s injury and decided to take the opportunity to attack Zhou Yu’s army. However, despite his injury, Zhou Yu inspected his troops and gave them words of encouragement. As a result, the morale of Zhou Yu’s army was greatly boosted and they managed to defeat Cao Ren forcing him to retreat.
Subsequently, Sun Quan appointed Zhou Yu as Pian Jiang Jun and the Grand Administrator of Nan prefecture. Zhou Yu was also ordered to station his troops at Jiang Ling for defensive purposes. Liu Bei, in the capacity of Zuo Jiang Jun (Left General) and Governor of Jing Zhou, set up his office at Gong An. When Liu Bei visited Sun Quan at Jing Kou, Zhou Yu suggested to Sun Quan to be wary of Liu Bei due to his potential and the support he got from Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. In addition, Zhou Yu wanted to have Liu Bei separated from his brothers and be positioned at Wu prefecture, giving him a life of luxury. In that way, Zhou Yu felt that he would be able to lead Zhang Fei and Guan Yu into battle thus assuring victories for future campaigns. However, Sun Quan felt that there was a need to attract more talents to his forces given the threat presented by Cao Cao in the north and harming Liu Bei would not go in line with that. Moreover, Sun Quan was not sure that Liu Bei could be controlled that easily. As a result, Zhou Yu’s advice was not heeded.
During that time, Liu Zhang was the Governor of Yi Zhou (the Xi Chuan region) and he was facing the threat of Zhang Lu. Zhou Yu visited Sun Quan at Jing Kou and presented his plan to conquer Cao Cao’s northern territories. Firstly, Zhou Yu wanted to lead an army, together with Sun Yu to capture the Shu territories. If successful, Zhou Yu planned to combine forces with Zhang Lu and positioned Sun Yu at Shu territory to link up with Ma Chao. Zhou Yu would then return to Jing Zhou and together with Sun Quan, attack Cao Cao from the direction of Xiang Yang. Sun Quan accepted his proposal and Zhou Yu returned to JiangLing to make preparations. However, Zhou Yu died of sickness on his way to Ba Qiu. He was only 36 years old then.
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Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi