Springtime in a Small Town opens in a country town in South China. It's the spring of 1946... less than a year since the defeated Japanese withdrew from China. A young woman languishes on the bomb-damaged walls of the small town. She is bored... frustrated... unfulfilled. The sound of a distant train whistle triggers thoughts of escape. Dai Liyan is the only surviving male of the Dai family. He married Yuwen eight years ago, just before the war started. When Japanese planes bombed the town, they evacuated to Suzhou
they returned to the family's ancestral home after the war to find it half in ruins, and moved back into the relatively intact Flower Pavilion. But then Dai Liyan fell ill with suspected tuberculosis. He and Yuwen began sleeping in separate rooms. Liyan gave up the thought of having children. The couple lives with Liyan's sister Xiu, who goes to a local school, and the family's elderly retainer Lao Huang. Liyan's health is not improved by watching his wife become his nursemaid: her vivacity has given way to a numbed ennui, and she cries alone in her room at night. But everything changes when an unexpected visitor arrives from Shanghai. Zhang Zhichen, now a qualified doctor, is Dai Liyan's old friend from college. He cuts a dashing figure in this rural setting. He is perturbed to find Liyan in such poor physical condition - and amazed to find him married to Yuwen, his own childhood neighbor and his first sweetheart. In the excitements of the reunion, long suppressed emotions are kept in check. Soon after though, Zhichen learns from Liyan that all passion has died in his marriage. Zhichen has a private word with Yuwen and both of them realize they still have strong feelings for each other. When Zhichen leaves to catch the Shanghai train, many things have changed in the Dai household.
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