This play is based on a story from the book The Moon Pavilion, and demonstrates people's faith in love, while accusing the patriarchal system of strangling the freedom of its youth.
Towards the end of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (A.D. 1115-1234), the Mongols began attacking the Jin empire. The Jin Emperor moved the capital south, sending his Prime Minister, Mr. Wang, to the Mongols for peace talks.
At the same time, the Emperor sentences General Tuoman Haiya — a loyal subject who insists on armed resistance — to death, as a way of showing the Mongols that he is determined to have peace. The General's son Xingfu thus becomes a fugitive, and flees the capital. Along the way, he meets a young student named Jiang Shilong and they become sworn brothers. (Please see the entry Zheng En was Executed While I was Drunk in this collection for a description of the significance of the sworn brothers' oath).
Jiang Shilong has a sister named Rui Liang, but has become separated from her during the conflict. At the same time, the Prime Minister's wife, Mrs. Wang, has become separated from her daughter — the similarly named Rui Lan. In a crowded shelter, Jiang Shilong, hoping to find his sister Rui Liang, calls her name, hoping she will hear him. Since the pronunciation of the names is so close, the Prime Minister's daughter, Rui Lan, answers instead. She and Jiang She and Jiang Shilong become friends, help each other escape the refugee camp, and later they marry. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's wife, Mrs. Wang, has been looking for her daughter and, when she shouts out the girl's name, it is Jiang Shilong's sister, Rui Liang, who answers. Mrs. Wang adopts Rui Liang, since neither women has any other relatives upon whom to depend. This kind of dramatic coincidence changes the destiny of each character in the play.
Prime Minister Wang, father of the newly married Rui Lan, completes his peace mission and happens upon the couple at an inn on his way home. He wants the marriage annulled because Jiang Shilong is only a poor scholar. Wang forces his daughter to return home with him, and the Wang family is reunited after the Mongols leave. Rui Lan misses her husband Jiang Shilong every day, and goes to the Moon Pavilion each night to pray for him. One night, overcome with emotion, she says her husband's name out loud as she is praying to the moon. Rui Liang overhears her, and realizes that they are sisters-in-law. When the Emperor later conducts exams to restart the imperial civil service examination system, Jiang Shilong is selected and is appointed an official. The Emperor respects his talent so much that he recommends that Prime Minister Wang take Jiang Shilong as his son-in-law. Jiang Shilong is reunited with his wife Rui Lan and his sister Rui Liang, and the family becomes one.
This opera dramatically depicts the turmoil of war. The plot is full of surprises, and audiences are deeply touched by the lives of civilians during this tragic period. The play has profound significance in Chinese opera, and is found across many regional opera styles.