Wu Zixu was born the second son of Wu She , who was the royal tutor in the state of Chu .Unfortunately, the king, misled by false reports of rebellion plots, ordered the execution of Wu She. Wu Zixu fled to the state of Wu.(Note: this name is a homonym, different from the surname of Wu Zixu) He found favor with Prince Guang. After the prince ascended the throne of Wu and became King , he began to use Wu Zixu in great projects. The king assigned him to lead the design and building of the "Great City", which evolved into the Suzhou of today. His design was said to have incorporated the environmental harmony between earth and water and the cosmic balance between celestial and terrestrial forces. At the same time, he also assisted the King in building up military might. In 506 BC he and Sunzi helped the king to launch major offensives against the state of Chu. They prevailed in five battles and conquered the capital of Ying. This victory led to Wu's elevation to Duke of Shen ; subsequently, he was known by the name of Shenxu
After the passing of King Helü, Wu did not earn the trust of Fuchai, the new King of Wu. In particular, he saw the long-term danger of King Goujian of Yue and advised the king to conquer that state. But the King listened instead to Bo Pi, an imperial minister who was bribed by the state of Yue, and he gave a sword to Wu to commit suicide on the alleged ground of sabotage. Before he committed suicide, Wu Zixu requested King Fuchai to remove his eyes after his death and hang them on top of the city gate, so he could watch the eventual capture of the Wu capital by the Yue army. In a short ten years after his death, all his advice turned out to be prophetic: the state of Wu was conquered by King Goujian. At the demise of his state, before King Fuchai committed suicide, he lamented that he did not heed the wise counsel of Wu Zixu, and covered his face during his death because he had no honor to face Wu in the afterlife.
Some Chinese believe that the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and usually associated with the poet Qu Yuan , actually commemorates the death of Wu Zixu, whose body was thrown into the river near Suzhou after his forced suicide.
After Wu She's imprisonment, the king ordered the executions of both Wu She and his eldest son, Wu Shang . Because of Wu Zixu's constant desire to avenge the unjust deaths of his father and brother, he is considered an example of filial piety.
In some parts of China, Wu Zixu is worshiped as a river god, with the title of "God of Waves".