Nestled deep within the Balou mountains, spared from the government's watchful eye, the harmonious people of Liven had enough food and leisure to be fully content. But when their crops and livelihood are obliterated by a seven-day snowstorm in the middle of a sweltering summer, a county official arrives with a lucrative scheme both to raise money for the district and to boost his career.
In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling reeducation compound, freethinking artists and academics are detained to strengthen their loyalty to Communist ideologies. Here, the Musician and her lover, the Scholar, along with the Author and the Theologian, are forced to carry out grueling physical work and are encouraged to inform on each other for dissident behavior. The prize: winning a chance at freedom.