Zhu Maichen is a scholar who has failed the imperial exam for many times. Through all these years, even though he and his wife lead an impoverished life, he has never given up the idea of studying for the imperial exam. Zhu makes a living, supporting his family by chopping firewood whenever he can take time away from his study. Despite his wife Cui’s constant nagging and humiliation, their desperate predicament does not seem to concern him; he continues to dream of the day he will finally arise above all his past failures. The motto he frequently recites is “I will become rich when I turn fifty.”
His wife finds it no longer tolerable to withstand this lifestyle with him, so, when urged by the matchmaker,Cui forces Zhu to sign a letter of divorce, thus allowing her to remarry. After that, with financial support from friends, Zhu leaves and heads for the capital to take the imperial exam again. Meanwhile, after Cuiremarries she is often beaten, kicked and cursed. When she can’t tolerate it anymore, she again leaves her husband, and starts to remember all of Zhu’s good qualities.
Zhu passes the imperial exam with honors and returns. He seeks out Cui to inquire after her. This kind gesture further makes Cui reminisce about the past and even wish how Zhu will send for her, and have his courier pick her up so they may approach his new post in court together. She wakes up to find she was just daydreaming.
With a loud drum roll and sonorous gong, Zhu arrives as the new prefect. Cui approaches the royal path and blocks the horse’s way. She pleads to reunite withZhu as his wife again. Zhu orders his servants to splash water in front of the horses to show that water splashed out can never be retrieved; it is impossible to rekindle their relationship. Cui, full of regret and unable to withstand the remorse, kills herself.