Wang Shipeng and his mother have led a hard life since his father’s death. Wang asks senior licentiateQian Liuxing for permission to marry his daughterYulian; Wang offers a bramble hairpin as the betrothal gift. The official agrees because he likes the young man’s talent. Soon Wang comes out first in the imperial examination, but he is dispatched to the remote south for a post because he refuses to marry the daughter of Prime Minister Moqi.
A wealthy suitor of Yulian, Sun Ruquan intercepts letters sent by Wang to Yulian and distorts the correspondence to say that Wang has remarried at the prime minister’s household; a divorce notice is served. The girl’s stepmother tries repeatedly in vain to force Yulian to remarry. The defiant Yulian attempts to drown herself in a river, but the governor of Fujin province, Qian Zaihe, saves and adopts her. Wangcomes home to his mother and grieves over the news of Yulian’s death. Meanwhile, the governor makes inquiries about Wang on her behalf and is misinformed that Wang has died of illness.
Five years later, Wang is transferred to the post of prefect of Ji'an and the governor has been promoted to the post of governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. On his way to his new post, the governor passes by Ji'an, just in time for the lantern festival, a festival for lovers. While praying for the soul of his wife in Xuanmiao Temple, Wang encounters a lady who looks like Yulian, who is praying for her departed husband. Getting wind of the event, Qian invites Wang to a banquet. The hairpin verifies that Wang is indeed Yulian’s husband. The couple is reunited.