By order of his father, Zheng Yuanhe travels to the capital to take the imperial examination. On his journey, he tours around the Qu River and falls in love with a courtesan called Li Yaxian. He exhausts himself by verbalizing his feelings for Yaxian but when his money dries up, he is driven out by the madam of the brothel. His father goes to the capital to look for him, only to see him making a living by singing dirges at funerals. Furious at the dishonor he has brought to the family, the old man beats him unconscious and leaves him on the street.
The badly injured Yuanhe is saved by a beggar and taken to the beggars’ asylum. After that, he sings and begs for a living together with his savior. On a snowy and windy night, Yaxian's maid sees him singing while walking along a street. She hastens to inform her master. Yaxian immediately pays him a visit. As the two open their hearts to each other, the courtesan confesses that she has refused to receive any patron since he was driven out of the brothel. Now, having found Yuanhe, she buys her freedom with her ownsavings and begins a new life with him.
Although cared for by Yaxian, Yuanhe is still obsessed with her beauty, and is unwilling to apply himself to his studies. To admonish him, she pulls out her hairpin and blinds herself. To repay her altruistic and adamant intention, Yuanhe studies hard and eventually passes the imperial examination. He makes up with his father, and Yaxian is bestowed a title from the monarch.