Fan Li hailed from Chu 楚, but went to Yue to serve King Goujian 句踐 (r. 495- 465). He spent some time in Wu 吳 as a hostage from the defeated kingdom of Yue. After he returned to Yue, he advised King Goujian in strengening his kingdom and to built up a new army. He thus contributed to the final victory of Yue over Wu.
Although he was bestowed the title of supreme commander, he left Yue to start a private life as a peasant in the state of Qi 齊, where he called himself Zhiyi Zipi 鴟夷子皮. The duke of Qi made him Counsellor-in-chief, but Fan Li soon returned his official seal, spent all his fortune and wandered around before settling down in Tao 陶 (modern Dingtao 定陶, Shandong). He adopted the name Tao Zhugong 陶朱公 and engaged in trade and again accumulated an immense fortune.