Two boys hurry up in order to get home before a snow storm starts. They are two brothers, Chueh-min and Chueh-hui, members of the rich and influential Kao family. Both of them attend the Foreign Language School in spite of great dissatisfaction of their grandfather. When they get home, a pretty bondmaid, Ming-feng, informs them that today their compound has guests. Almost the whole Kao family is gathered under the same roof. Chueh-hui, whose resentment over his family grows with every new day, tires to empty his plate as soon as possible and flee to his room. He, his elder brother Chueh-min and their cousin Chin manage to leave a dining room, so that they could have a private talk. These three are especially near and dear to each other due to their mutual unacceptance of a lifestyle of Chinese aristocracy. They are ready to fight for their happiness and eager to protect their rights. Their Big Brother, Chueh-hsin, serves them as a reminder and an example of ruining influence of their family.
Being the eldest son of the eldest son, Chueh-hsin becomes the second most powerful person in the Kao family. Now he has a beautiful wife and a son, but it is not what he planned for himself. Chueh-hui, Chueh-min and Chin believe that they should be happy, that there is enough suffering in this world. In spite of the fact that Chin attends a girl school, she is rather upset with quality of education. The boys tell her that there are rumors that their Foreign Language School is going to accept girls. Even an idea of a school where boys and girls would be able to study together excites them. Chin is determined to persuade her mother, Mrs. Chang, to allow her to enter it. Chueh-hui enjoys his dreams of a new beginning and different future, of their beautiful bondmaid Ming-feng and great deeds.
Chueh-min and Chueh-hui visit an office of Big Brother quite often. The younger brothers love him, but can’t understand his policy of non-resistance. His inability to go against his grandfather’s and father’s commands makes him agree to forget about study and even to give up love of his life. He and Cousin Mei become victims of old traditions of a patriarchal family. Chueh-hsin is the luckiest one. He gets a good wife, who presents him with a beautiful son. Cousin Mei is doomed to suffering. When her husband dies, her life becomes unbearable, so she comes back home.
After leaving his brother’s office, Chueh-hui runs into his school friend, who tells him rather unpleasant news. Soldiers attack students again. This leads to numerous fights between students and soldiers. Disorders reigns on the streets of the city, but the authorities pretend not to notice. The Venerable Master Kao finds out that Chueh-hui is involved in the Students’ Movement. The old man is furious, he is sure that such dishonor and disobedience are side effects of study at a school. The Venerable Master Kao doesn’t allow Chueh-hui to leave the compound and Big Brother is not able to help him. At the same time, Chueh-hui and Ming-feng confess their love for each other and allow themselves to enjoy sweet illusions. Chueh-hui starts believing that he can save Ming-feng.
New Year celebrations bring both happiness and misery. Watching the dragon dance, Chueh-min and Chueh-hui notice how fire burn dancers’ bodies, hear their cries and see traces of pain on their faces. Chueh-hui can’t get rid of a feeling that he doesn’t belong to this family. A company of his cousins, brothers and Ming-feng help him to distract from mournful thoughts. More often than not, Chueh-hui can’t find salvation at all.
Later on, Chueh-hui, Chueh-min and several other classmates start publishing the magazine Dawn. It is full of new progressive ideas and young audience find the Dawn to be encouraging and fascinating. Chueh-min’s role in the magazine’s life becomes less and less important, because he spends almost all his free time with Chin. Unlike the young audience, the authorities don’t approve the magazine and forbid its publishing. Working hard on the magazines, Chueh-hui doesn’t notice that Ming-feng’s life becomes more miserable with every new day. The girl is presented to the Feng family, so that she could be a concubine of an old man. The poor girl commits suicide and leaves a deep wound in Chueh-hui’s heart. Soon enough, Ming-feng becomes just a recollection.
A new military conflict brings Chueh-hsin and Cousin Mei together. She stays with the Kao family for several days, until it is safe enough to return to her mother. Although Mei still loves Big Brother, she and Chueh-hsin’s wife become friends. Cousin Mei confides in Jui-chueh, tells her the whole story of her and Big Brother’s love and even tells her about her illness. Jui-chueh pities poor Mei, because she reminds her of her own sister and her tragic fate. When Cousin Mei dies, both she and Chueh-hsin are stricken with grief.
The Venerable Master Kao believes that it is time for Chueh-min to get marry. Being in love with Chin and having an example of Big Brother’s love story, he runs away. Chueh-hui laughs at futile attempt of his relatives to make him tell them where Chueh-minis. He mocks his Big Brother and seems to be unaffected with his grandfather’s threats. However, when the Venerable Master Kao falls ill, Chueh-hui worries about him. Before his death, the Venerable Master Kao promises to cancel Chueh-min’s marriage with a granddaughter of the Feng. The grandfather dies before Chueh-min comes home.
Big Brother’s wife has to give a birth to her second child not at home, but at different place, because of old traditions which don’t allow a woman to bring a new life into the world during a period of mourning.
Jui-chueh dies, leaving her two children without mother’s care and love. Being absolutely destroyed with his grief, Big Brother helps Chueh-hui to escape. He also agrees to send him money and pay for his study. Chin and Chueh-min hope that Big Brother would be able to help them with their marriage. Although Chueh-hui is happy about his brother and Chin, he can’t get rid of jealousy. He also loves her. Chin gives Chueh-hui her photo as a farewell gift. Chueh-hui leaves for Shanghai early in the morning, his heart full of new hopes and sweet anticipation.