Her maid suggests her to abandon her dull studies and to take a walk in the garden. In the garden she falls asleep and has a beautiful dream about her lover. In the dream, she makes intense love to him but on waking up she is unable to remember much of her dream. She even tries to look for her lover, but all in vain. This further disappoints her and she starves her self to death. Before dying, however, she paints a beautiful picture of herself and requests that it must be placed next to her grave. Her mother decides to bury her under a plum tree. After her death, she goes to hell where she tells the judge about her story. Impressed by her beauty and touched by her tale, the judge orders to let go of her. She is even told that her marriage with her lover is predestined. After release, her ghost wanders in the garden where her body is buried.
On the other side, Liu Mengmei is young improverished scholar who has taken up the journey to the capital to give his civil service examinations. He also dreams of a young girl who informs him that she could bring him happiness and prosperity.On his way , he visits the garden where Du Liniang is buried. He discovers her picture next to her shrine, and falls in love with her. The Ghost appears and they both make refined love to each other, After that, Du convinces Lui of her state, that she is mere ghost and also convinces him to exhume her by digging up her grave so that her soul and body can reunite. With the help of Flower Goddess, the reunion of flesh and soul takes place and they formally get married.
In the last section of the story, Du presses upon her husband to convince her parents that she is back to life. However, that brings her husband the wrath of her father. He is accused of and punished for grave robbing. In the mean time the results of his civil service exams are out and he has cleared them. On this account, he is granted pardon by the Emperor. On the other hand, Du convinces her father , with much effort, that she is back to life and that love is so powerful that even death succumbs to it. This final section contains some of most sweetest and hilarious pieces of Kunqu operas.(Hsien-Tsu)
Though the story has an deus ex machina ending which means that it is very brupt in the end. Certain characters and twists in the plot are introduced to bring out the desired result, a happy ending for all in this play.Nonetheless , the story is a great masterpiece of creativity in many ways. The kunqu form of art adds to breathtaking power of the play, specially its three poems , "Travelling in the Garden", "The Dream Interrupted" and "Searching for the Dream" are marvellous in its expression of emotions and drama in form of music and dance.
The play is basically written criticize and defy the concepts of Neo-Confucianism that was prevalent in the 16th century China. The latter placed high value and emphasis on proper behaviour and etiquettes. It demanded a complete suppression of feeling, dreams and desires and a display of rigid , unemphathic manners. As we know , that those who suffer most under such repressive cnditions are women who are asked to suppress their desires to an inhumane and unbearable extent. This political philosophy argued that mind and reason are of highest importance and cause of human happiness and success. However , Xianz in his play tried to attack the