Yip Mann, an elderly spice farmer, should have known better than to purchase a fifteen-year-old cherry-girl as his concubine, especially one beautiful enough to be seen as Ch'ien Gum - comparable to a thousand pieces of gold. But surely he deserves such a plaything to give him the last of his sons.
To Yip Mann's dismay, the wilful concubine dies bearing him a worthless girl-child. After her death he must make use of the girl as best he can: by binding her feet in the forbidden practice of the Golden Lotus, he can sell her for a higher price. But the daughter he names Li-Xia - Beautiful One - has the fighting spirit of her rebellious mother, escaping the crippling bandages: she knows her feet will be her freedom. And when they lead her into the path of a mysterious 'foreign devil', Li-Xia takes the first steps on a new and perilous journey . . .