This play is based on the book The Legend of the Jade Hairpin, written by Gao Lian. It is a love story between a Buddhist nun and a young scholar. In the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279), many people left the city to evade the Jingkang Chaos — the Tartar assault on the Chinese mainland. (Please refer to the synopsis for the opera The Second Assault on the Chinese Mainland by the Tartar General Jin Wu Shu for more about the Chaos.)
Chen Jiaolian, daughter of the mayor of the capital city, runs away from the capital with her mother and becomes a Buddhist nun. She is given the Buddhist name Chen Miaochang, which means 'to enjoy an ordinary but wonderful life'. Pan Bizheng, a young scholar whose aunt happens to be host of the temple in which Chen Miaochang lives, also lives at the temple because he has failed the civil service exam and is unwilling to return home. At the temple one day, he runs into Chen Miaochang and is deeply attracted to her beauty and wisdom. He falls in love with her immediately and, after several 'accidental' encounters, he successfully attracts her attention and the two fall in love, regardless of Buddhist doctrine. His aunt finally learns of the affair and, attempting to stop their relationship, forces Pan Bizheng to prepare for the upcoming civil service exam again. Pan Bizheng has no other option and must leave the temple.
Following careful preparation, he is now successful in the exam, and becomes a government official. Overjoyed, Pan Bizheng sends his servant to the temple with the good news. His servant is a loyal man who has been with his master for many years, and he is so excited that he is unable to speak properly. His words are at such odds with his gestures that Chen Miaochang misunderstands, thinking that Pan Bizheng has been chosen to marry the daughter of the Prime Minister. Chen Miaochang is deeply disappointed, and attempts suicide by hanging herself in her room. Luckily, she is found in time and her life is saved. In the end, the misunderstanding is resolved, and the lovers live happily ever after.
(For another version of this story, please see the entry for Lady Chen Gu's Rush for the Departing Boat in this collection.)