Beijing teenager, Shi Ding, is thriving during the Cultural Revolution. He has won acclaim for his storytelling and for his clever entrapment of class enemies, especially those seeking to escape punishment through suicide. Suddenly, his father kills himself. Grief-stricken and now the son of a suspicious suicide, Shi Ding finds himself ostracised. Why did his father do it? Did it have something to do with that attractive neighbour, the university professor? Before he can learn more, the woman kills herself too. Ordered to guard her home, Shi Ding becomes enthralled by her library of banned world classics. He devours their stories, obsessed with finding a way to share them with a story-starved populace. But how, when doing so is dangerous?
The title is based on a Sichuan idiom for telling a story: “scaffolding the dragon’s gate”.