In order to win favor of the emperor, Zuo Kouyu, director of the Music Conservatory, forces songstresses from Rouge Alley to go to the imperial palace, often against their own will. Zuo attempts to force a renowned and coveted songstress, Zhuqing, to marry him, but she resists and gets beaten.
Determined to report Zuo’s misconduct to the prime minister, musician Shen Tongxuan and Zhuqing risk trespassing into the prime minister’s mansion to seek help from his daughter, Song Yulan. The musician wins the daughter’s favor with his talent; the prime minister employs him to tutor his sixth son, Wenmin.
Begrudging the prime minister for his dismissal, Zuo defames his former employer by accusing his daughter of seducing the residential tutor. At the prime minister’s birthday party, Zuo and his gang raise an uproar. Yulan admits to her father that she has promised to marry the tutor without his consent. The prime minister becomes enraged enough to disown her. The imperial exam and family union at stake, Wenminpleads with his tutor not to leave for the capital. Determined, the tutor leaves anyway.
Six years hence, at Rouge Alley, Yulan is still waiting for her lover to return, only to find him a fallen beggar. The reunion fills them with mixed feelings. Earning the highest honor at the examination, the prime minister’s son returns glorious. Shen finally wins the emperor’s favor and is appointed to a leading position at the Imperial Academy. The prime minister finally consents to the marriage between Shen and Yulan, and the family is happily reunited.