The play opens with Zheng Yuan-he, a young man from a wealthy and prominent family, down and out at the end of his rope. His current miserable state is the product of his own spoilt and sybaritic life style, as he has squandered all his money and belongings on Li Yaxian, a stunning beauty, in a pleasure-house. Now penniless and turned out by the madam of the pleasure-house and his own family, Zheng Yuan-he has succumbed to being a common, homeless beggar. On this winter day of a violent snowstorm, he stumbles along in the neighborhood of the pleasure-house, begging while singing the Lotus Song, a tune sung by beggars pleading for pity and compassion.
It so happens that Yaxian, the loving demimonde who has genuinely fallen for Zheng Yuan-he, has heard the latest news that her lover had turned into a beggar. Quite upset over his misfortunes and alarmed by the severe weather on this day, Yaxian asks her confidante Yinzheng, another young woman in the pleasure-house, to go outside to find any beggar who might know the whereabouts of her darling. Sure enough, Yinzheng comes face to face with the fallen man. Yaxian is at once informed and the play ends with the two lovers reunited in relief and tearful joy.
The play poses as a morality drama to warn against debauchery and hedonism, which the play states can only lead to pain and destruction. In the aftermath of this episode — not performed this afternoon — Zheng Yuan-ho transforms himself into an upright and studious scholar and passes the imperial examination with the highest honor. He and Yaxian are married, and they live happily ever after.