Born in 1898 in Yongchun, Fujian, Yu went to Waseda Univesity in japan to study economics in 1920. The following year, he transferred to the Japanese Army Officers' Academy. In 1923, he returned to China to teach at the Whampoa Military Academy. In 1946, he retired from military service at the rank of lieutenant-general. In 1949, he came to Taiwan. In 1977, he held his first oversea solo exhibition at New York Chinese Cultural Center. In 1986, at the advanced age of eighty-eight, he held his first solo exhibition at the Hsiung-shih Gallery in Taiwan. In 1987, his held a solo exhibition at Hong Kong City Hall. In 1988, the National Museum of History held a retrospective exhibition of his works; in the same year, Hanart Gallery Taipei also held his exhibition “Recent works by Yu Cheng-yao”. Yu Cheng-yao only started painting at the age of fifty-six. Because in his early years he had been in the military and traveled extensively, his style of painting was more of a recapitulation from memory. He was a successful self-taught painter, calligrapher and poet.