This is an adaptation of the classic novel A Dream of Red Mansions. The opera tells the story of the beautiful Lin Dai Yu — cousin to the leading male character, Bao Yu — who burns the manuscripts of all the poems she wrote to him and ends her life when she discovers he has married another woman.
Bao Yu [Qiao Lixiang] is a pampered young man who spends his time cut off from the outside world, simply because he is the family's only son. His cousin and love interest, Lin Dai Yu, is beautiful but emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy. She is an extremely accomplished poet, writer and musician, yet a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure. In Buddhist terms, she is the reincarnation of Crimson Pearl, and the purpose of her mortal birth is to repay a 'debt of tears' to her divine nurturer, who has been reborn as Bao Yu.
Bao Yu's other cousin, Xue Baochai, is lively by contrast, and is a family favourite. The three cousins are close companions, enjoying the beauty of the garden together and writing poetry which they read to one another. Bao Yu rarely thinks about the upcoming civil service exam for which he is supposed to be studying, preferring instead to enjoy the companionship of Lin Dai Yu.
Bao Yu's mother becomes concerned about Bao Yu's relationship with his cousin, because Lin Dai Yu is always sick and morose. Although the love and understanding between Bao Yu and Lin Dai Yu are profound, Dai Yu's poor health, hypersensitivity, and her status as an orphan dependent on Bao Yu's family make her a poor candidate for marriage. Xue Baochai, on the other hand, is liked and respected by the entire family for her thoughtfulness and good deeds. Knowing Bao Yu will never agree to marry the woman they choose, the family hatches a plan.
Bao Yu is led to believe that he is going to marry Lin Dai Yu, but is actually tricked by his grandmother, mother, and sister-in-law into marrying Xue Baochai. Lin Dai Yu hears of the wedding from a maid while the ceremony is underway, but she does not know that Bao Yu has been tricked. She burns the manuscripts of all the poems she wrote to him, and her poor health suddenly deteriorates. She dies unattended, and is later found in her remote chamber at the opposite end of the garden.