Set in Eastern Jin Dynasty of China (circa 265-420), the legend of The Butterfly Lovers centers on Zhu Yingtai, the only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family in the Zhejiang Province. Challenging traditions, Zhu convinces her father to allow her to disguise herself as a young man so she can travel to the city of Hangzhou to study. There, she meets the handsome Liang Shanbo, they become best friends, and Liang never suspects that his friend is actually a woman.
Over the years, Zhu realizes she has fallen in love with Liang, but cannot reveal her true identity. When they finish their studies, she comes up with a plan, inviting Liang to visit her residence to court her sister. When Liang arrives, he finds to his surprise that Zhu is a woman. They vow their love to each other, however, the joy of their reunion is short-lived as Zhu's father has arranged for her to marry a rich man. Liang is heart-broken upon hearing the news, falls ill and dies.
Upon hearing of her lover's death, Zhu is now heart-broken, but powerless. On her wedding day, the skies grow stormy as the procession reaches Liang's grave. Suddenly, a huge bolt of lightning strikes the grave, splitting it open. Zhu throw herself into the grave, reunited with Liang forever, and the two lovers are magically transformed into butterflies.