An envoy from the state of Beihai arrives at Chang’an, the capital of China during the Tang dynasty. Bearing tribute and a letter written in their native language, the envoy relays the message that Beihai troops will invade China if no one in the country can read the letter. None of the incompetent ministers knows what to do. The emperor orders minister He Zhizhang to summon Li Bai, a person of rare talent he once dreamt of. To the emperor’s delight,Li can indeed decipher the document, and is rewarded with a banquet. Li is called to the Pavilion of Flowers by Imperial Concubine Yang for a drink, which results in three much-celebrated stanzas of poem written while he is a little drunk.
The prince of Dongping, An Lushan, rebels and seizes Chang’an. The emperor flees to Chengdu with his retinue. At Maweipo, the emperor’s troops threaten mutiny and force Yang to commit suicide. To win support from the people, An tries to make Li serve him. An also has singers perform the three stanzas Liwrote for Yang. When Li refuses to comply, An offers him to the rebellious Prince Lin, and then claims thatLi has defected. Later, when Tang General Guo defeats Lin’s forces,Li is charged with treason. Thanks toGuo’s intervention, Li’s sentence is mitigated to exile in Yelang. Being unable to clear his name, Licompares himself to Qu Yuan, an ancient patriot who was exiled for his loyalty. Inviting the reflection of the moon in a river to drink with him, he drowns himself. Poets He Zhizhang and Meng Haoran hurry to save Li, but in vain.