Set during the Spring and Autumn Period of ancient China, the story tells of the power struggle between the states of Wu and Yue. A swordsman from Wu challenges Yue. Fan Li, an advisor in Yue, finds a young maiden called Qing to take up the Wu swordsman's challenge. Qing is an expert swordswoman and she defeats the Wu swordsman with ease.
It is revealed that Qing learnt her skills while playing mock sword duels with a white gibbon. Fan Li allows Qing to train the soldiers of Yue in swordsmanship and Qing gradually falls in love with Fan Li. King Goujian of Yue finally defeats his rival King Fuchai of Wu after enduring hardship and humiliation. Fan Li is reunited with his lover Xishi, who has been working as a spy in Wu. Qing feels that Xishi is a threat to her relationship with Fan Li and wants to kill her. However, she is taken aback by Xishi's beauty and hesitates. Qing accidentally hurts Xishi with her inner energy while thrusting her sword towards the latter, even though the blade did not touch Xishi at all. Xishi clutches her bosom in pain and the expression on her face is later described to be "so beautiful that it will take away the soul of any man who looks upon her". This later gives rise to the Chinese phrase "Xizi clutching her bosom" (西子捧心), which refers to a woman's beauty being enhanced when she is in a state of agony.