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In the heart of a small Chinese mining village, the destiny of Guangsheng, torn between the respect that owes his family and his own desires, is played out. The village, on the Yellow River, reflects the economic and social upheavals affecting modern-day China. Years of excessive coal mining have dried up resources and now only one mine is operating, obliging the village inhabitants to seek their fortune in wealthy coastal cities. Nevertheless, some still manage to survive. Each morning, Master Zongmin and his apprentice, Guangsheng, continue to go to the mine, while his wife and retarded son go to sell vegetables in the city. Each night, Master Zhongmin’s wife slips away from her ageing and weak husband to join Guangsheng in his bed, where they make love. Time passes until the day there’s an explosion in the mine, the tower collapses and only Guangsheng manages to escape. His exhausted master didn’t have the strength to get out. Guangsheng, who has always considered Master Zhongmin a father figure, is devastated. He feels he is solely responsible for his master’s death because he didn’t manage to save him. At night, when he sees his master’s wife, he can’t make love with her because each time he looks at her he thinks of his master. The explosion leads the Party Committee to financially aid the miners so that go to seek work in the wealthy cities in the South. Adhering to the new politicies of privatization, the Party Committee rents the mine to Guangsheng, who wants to stay in the village. Guangsheng throws himself body and soul into getting the mine up and running again, but haunted by his guilt, he is still unable to have sexual relations. Only love will enable him to recover, but fate is harsh and a terrible backlash is in store for Guangsheng.