Yu Hanchao started his football career with Liaoning Whowin in 2005 after making his debut on 22 May 2005 in a 0-0 draw against Inter Shanghai. By the end of the 2005 season, he played in 13 league games and scored his first goal on 5 November 2005 in a 4-1 loss against Shandong Luneng. The next season would see Yu establish himself further by playing in thirteen more games; however, it wasn't until the 2008 league season when he would cement his position as a regular within the squad. 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 the club 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 then record-breaking domestic transfer fee.
Despite playing for a second tier club, Yu was called up to the Chinese national team by then manager Gao Hongbo. 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. His performance was considered good enough to gain another appearance in the following friendly against Iran in a 1-0 win on 1 June 2009.