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.
The roads have been blocked by the rebellions, so Pan Bizheng must take a boat on the Qiu River. To catch the boat, which departs early in the morning, he packs up his belongings and quietly leaves the temple. When Chen Miaochang gets the news, she rushes to the riverbank, where she sees that Pan Bizheng's boat is already in the middle of the river. Unhappy that she has not had a chance to say goodbye, she begins running along the riverbank, shouting her lover's name. Moved by her determination, a fisherman offers his boat to her. She climbs in, chases the departing boat, and finally bids Pan Bizheng a proper farewell.
(For another version of this story, please see the entry for Miss Chen Committed Suicide in this collection.)