The plot of this play is based on folklore. The story takes place during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). Chen Xing Yuan is a beautiful young lady living in central province of China. In her backyard, there is a plum tree which blossoms every year. The tree is very beautiful, and her neighbours come to enjoy the flowers during the flowering season. Chen Xing Yuan takes good care of the tree, treating it almost as if it were a human being — as though a special friendship exists between herself and the tree.
One day she happens to notice that something has happened to the plum tree. The branches are suddenly faded and the blossoms are falling. Chen Xing Yuan is puzzled, because it is a beautiful day and there is neither wind nor rain. Later in the afternoon, to her surprise, her father's servant arrives home, accompanied by a young man. She knows something unusual has happened, because her father is a government official and his servant is supposed to be with him at all times. The young man is handsome and clever, but she can see sadness in his eyes.
The servant tells Chen Xing Yuan that their beloved prime minister, a loyal and faithful man, has been sentenced to death by the Emperor, based on evidence of a rebellion, forged by disloyal subjects. As a result, his whole family has been sentenced to death. Chen Xing Yuan's father warns the family, but only the son of the Prime Minister is able to escape. There is no other place to hide, so Chen Xing Yuan's father decides to send the young man to his own home. The young man tells Chen Xing Yuan that his name is Mei Liangyu and that he does not want to live alone if other members of his family are dead; neither does he want to cause any trouble for those who have helped his family. Looking at the young man who has suddenly lost all his relatives, Chen Xing Yuan realizes why the plum blossoms are falling: it is a harbinger of tragedy.
Living under the same roof, Chen Xing Yuan and Mei Liangyu soon fall in love. Just before they marry, barbarians invade the country from the north. The imperial army is defeated, and the nation panics. Knowing it will be difficult to resist the invasion, the Emperor decides to negotiate with the barbarians and submits to their conditions. Among those conditions is the selection of beautiful women from across the country as tributes to the barbarian ruler. Unfortunately, Chen Xing Yuan is among those selected, and is sent to the north.
The couple is torn apart. Mei Liangyu sees his fiancée off at Chong Tai, close to the border, and Chen Xing Yuan leaves him her golden hairpin as a souvenir. They take an oath to love one another forever, and part with tears. During the journey, Chen Xing Yuan remains alert for opportunities to escape, but no chance occurs. As the group approaches barbarian territory, Chen Xing Yuan notices that there is a cliff at the border. While the group is taking a break, she uses all her strength to jump from the cliff in order to commit suicide. As she falls, she feels something soft beneath her, and when she hits the ground, her landing is cushioned. She has been saved by the soul of another lady who had died on the same spot, on her way to barbarian territory for the same reason. The unfortunate woman's soul also sends Chen Xing Yuan back home, and Chen Xing Yuan and Mei Liangyu are finally married. On their wedding day, the plum tree blossoms again: an occurrence which everyone sees as a miracle.
(For other versions of this story, please see the entries for Eulogies to the Plum Blossom at the Beginning of the Winter and Parted Forever: Madam Chen Xing Yuan.)