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A little girl – Han – is sold, aged four, as a bondmaid or slave into the House of Wu, where she grows up and falls in love with the young heir. But the idyll of childhood attachment turns into a nightmare as Han, beautiful, proud and uncompromisingly loyal, struggles against the forces of tradition and tyranny in a large household where patriarchs and matriarchs wield inexorable power, lustful male relatives watch young bondmaids to claim their rightful share of pleasure, visiting monks devise ingenious schemes to combine holy public duty with unbridled private indulgence, and gods and goddesses smile to see the human drama unfold.