A stingy fisherman always makes his three young helpers do all his work. One day he scolds the "lazy boys" for forgetting to provide lunch. "Don't worry," they say. "We can make stone soup." The boys dig a hole and fill it with water and "flavored" stones. They trick the fisherman into making bowls and chopsticks, and fetching salt and sesame oil. While he's busy, they stir in bird eggs, add wild vegetables, and slip fish into the soup. By the time the old man returns, they have a feast fit for a king.
Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao's political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and, soon, for herself and family.