Yu Hanchao started his football career in 2005 with Liaoning Whowin after making his debut against Inter Shanghai on 22 May 2005 in a 0–0 draw. By the end of the league season, he would eventually play in thirteen league games and score his first goal against Shandong Luneng in a 4-1 defeat on 5 November 2005. The next season would see Yu Hanchao establish himself further by playing in thirteen more games, however it wasn't until the 2008 league season when Yu would cement his position as a regular first-choice starter within the team. While he my have established himself within the team, he was unable to replicate his performances that saw him break into the squad and Liaoning were relegated at the end of the 2008 league season. Despite this setback, Yu would remain with Liaoning and helped them back into the top tier when he won the second division title with the team. Before the 2013 season started, Yu transferred to Dalian Aerbin for a record-breaking domestic transfer fee. He failed to meet high expectations and had a poor first season at Dalian.
Despite playing for a second tier club, Yu was called into Gao Hongbo's first squad. As part of Gao's more youthful squad, he was able to make his debut against Germany on 29 May 2009 in a 1–1 draw coming on as a substitute for Jiang Ning and played as a left winger. His performance was considered good enough to gain another cap in the following friendly against Iran where this time he played as a right winger in a 1–0 win on 1 June 2009.