Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE).">
He hailed from Nanyang 南陽 (modern Xinye 新野, Henan) and was enrolled in a state-sponsored school in the capital Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi). He soon became acquainted with Liu Xiu 劉秀 (the eventual Emperor Guangwu 漢光武帝, r. 25-57 CE), one of the princes of the Han dynasty 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) that had been ousted by the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 8-23 CE). After the outbreak of the peasant rebellion of the Red Eyebrows (Chimei 赤眉) and the rebels of Lulin 綠林, Deng Yu refused to participate in the counter-government of Prince Liu Xuan 劉玄, the Gengshi Emperor 更始帝 (r. 23-25 CE).
Instead, he became a follower of Liu Xiu who had obtained the imperial order of the Gengshi Emperor to clear the region north of the Yellow River from the rebels. It was Deng Yu who sugessted to Liu Xiu to follow the steps of his ancestor, Emperor Gaozu 漢高祖 (r. 206-195 BCE), to pacify the empire and to continue the interrupted reign of the Han dynasty.
When the rebels of the Red Eyebrows entered the metropolitan region around Chang'an, Liu Xiu used the chance, appointed Deng Yu General of the Vanguard (qian jiangjun 前將軍) with the order to conquer the west. Deng Yu defeated the Gengshi Emperor's troops under the command of Fan Can 樊參 and Wang Kuang 王匡, making the way free to the throne.
When Liu Xiu mounted the throne, Deng Yu was appointed Grand Minister of Education (da situ 大司徒) and was given the title of Marquis of Liang 梁侯. In 26 CE he liberated Chang'an from the Red Eyebrows but was for long months not able to defeat them in a final blow. Deng Yu, along with Deng Hong 鄧弘, was several times defeated by the rebel army. He withdrew to Yiyang 宜陽 and offered the emperor his position, gave back his seal and the title of marquis. He was only reinvited to participate in government after the whole empire had been pacified.
Deng Yu was appointed General to the Right (you jiangjun 右將軍) and made Marquis of Gaomi 高密侯. When Emperor Ming 漢明帝 (r. 57-75 CE) succeeded to the throne, Deng Yu was granted the honorific title of Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅). On his death he was granted the honour to be the first in a series of important ministers of which official portraits were painted.