He hailed from the region of Wu 吳 (modern Jiangsu) and suffered bad times in his youth, earning his money from selling firewood. Later on he was recommended to Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) who appointed him ordinary grand master (zhong dafu 中大夫). When the king of the Eastery Yue 東越 rebelled against the Han dynasty, he recommended some plans to put down the uprising. He was appointed governor of Guiji 會稽 (modern Shaoxing 紹興, Zhejiang) and, together with general Han Yue 韓說, defeated the unruly natives of the southeast. Emperor Wu promoted him to Commandant-in-chief (duwei 都尉), later to aide to the Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang zhangshi 丞相長史).