There are 20 chapters in the 3rd edition of this work. The plot centers around a master swordman named Yuan Cheng Zhi (袁承志)who witnessed the end of the Ming Dynasty and aided the Li Zicheng rebellion while the Manchurians were invading proper China.
The story begins with a preamble about a Brunei official and his man-servant arriving in China during the late Ming dynasty only to be robbed at knife point. In their escape, they met a group of former soldiers who were under the command of general Yuan Chonghuan. Yuan Chonghuan had been put to death by the emperor unjustly and his men wanted to avenge his death. Li Zicheng had sent an envoy to meet these men in hope that they will aid his rebellion against the emperor. This effectively sets the historical backdrop of the story and introduces Yuan Cheng Zhi, Yuan Chonghuan’s son and hero of the story, as a young teenager with basic martial arts skills but with great potential. The preamble ends with the Brunei official, realising that China at this time was unsafe and in chaos, returning hurriedly to Brunei.
Yuan Cheng Zhi was put under the care of An Da Niang, a friend of Cui Qiu Shan, a former soldier under Yuan Chonghuan, for a while before being sent to Mu Ren Qing, the greatest martial arts teacher alive at that time. Although Mu Ren Qing had already retired, he surprisingly took a liking to Yuan Cheng Zhi and agreed to take Yuan Cheng Zhi in as his final disciple.
Under the teaching of Mu Ren Qing and also Mu Sang, Mu Ren Qing’s close friend, Yuan Cheng Zhi’s martial arts improved tremendously. Serendipitous incidents also led Yuan Cheng Zhi to discover the sword and personal effects, including a secret martial arts manual, of Xia Xue Yi, a long dead enigmatic swordsman with legendary great skills. This allowed Yuan Cheng Zhi’s martial arts to reach a super-human level.
Hoping to aid Li Zicheng\\\'s rebellion, Yuan Cheng Zhi left Mount Hua, the residence of Mu Ren Qing, and traveled to Jiangnan where he met Wen Qing Qing, a young lady born into a family of brigands. It was later revealed that Qing Qing was the daughter of Xia Xue Yi. Her family had not approved of the relationship between Xia Xue Yi and Qing Qing’s mother, Wen Yi, and Qing Qing saw Yuan Cheng Zhi as an agent from her dead father to rescue her from her family’s disdain.
Qing Qing’s family had earlier stolen a large amount of gold meant for Li Zicheng’s army and Yuan Cheng Zhi thought it his duty to help An Xiao Hui, his childhood friend and An Da Niang’s daughter, who was looking after the gold to get the gold back. A conflict ensues and the brigands were defeated and had to give up the gold. But in a fit, Qing Qing’s grandfather killed Wen Yi.
After the death of her mother, Qing Qing had no option but to leave with Yuan Cheng Zhi. The two decided to search for hidden treasure based on a map left behind by Xia Xue Yi and traveled to Nanjing.
The treasure is hidden in a villa in Nanjing, owned by Min Zi Hua, a swordsman who wanted to avenge his brother killed by Jiao Gong Li. Min Zi Hua had gathered a large group of martial arts exponents to confront Jiao Gong Li. Yuan Cheng Zhi learns that Xia Xue Yi had rescued Jiao Gong Li many years ago during a similar crisis and decided to assist Jiao Gong Li this time in place of Xia Xue Yi. The ensuing conflict resulted in Min Zi Hua to give up his villa and left Jiao Gong Li alone.
Yuan Cheng Zhi and Qing Qing quickly found the hidden treasure within the villa and decided to donate the treasure to Li Zicheng’s cause. As they transported the treasure to Beijing in preparation for Li Zicheng’s attack on the capital, several gangs of bandits plotted to rob Yuan Cheng Zhi but none could defeat him in combat.
When a group of passing government soldiers also attempted to rob Yuan Cheng Zhi, he was outraged and helped the bandits defeat the soldiers. Coincidentally, the soldiers were transporting some of Yuan Chonghuan’s men as prisoners charged with assisting Li Zicheng and Yuan Cheng Zhi rescued them.
The bandits in admiration of Yuan Cheng Zhi’s uprightness, patriotism and combat skills pledged allegiance to him. Yuan Cheng Zhi was then able to organize them to repel the army of the northern Qing Empire who frequently raided northern parts of China at that time.
Wanting to do more for his country, Yuan Cheng Zhi traveled alone to the capital of Qing and attempted to assassinate Huang Taiji, the Qing Emperor but failed. However, Huang Taiji was eventually assassinated by his brother, wanting to inherit the throne, and Yuan Cheng Zhi returned to Beijing.
As Li Zicheng’s rebellion gathered pace and his men closed in on the capital, the emperor employed a group of skilled warriors to be his bodyguards, notably He Tie Shou, a young woman with a hook for her left hand and leader of a cult skilled in the use of poison.
Jiao Gong Li’s daughter, Jiao Wan Er approached Yuan Cheng Zhi for help, informing him her father had been killed and Min Zi Hua was the prime suspect. However, Yuan Cheng Zhi was able to show that Min Zi Hua was innocent and Jiao Wan Er eventually identified the killers as Tai Bai Shuang Ying, two treacherous swordsmen, who were also among the group of bodyguards employed to protect the emperor. Yuan Cheng Zhi and Jiao Wan Er infiltrated the emperor’s palace and killed Tai Bai Shuang Ying.
While in the palace, Yuan Cheng Zhi also discovered that Ah Jiu, a young lady who frequently associated herself with the bandits under Yuan Cheng Zhi, was actually Princess Changping, the emperor’s daughter living in the palace. When Li Zicheng’s army eventually invaded the capital and removed the emperor from power, thus ending the Ming Dynasty. Yuan Cheng Zhi felt his job was done and, not willing to involve himself in politics, left the capital, bringing along He Tie Shou and Ah Jiu to Mount Hua to reunite with Mu Ren Qing.
Shortly after, Li Zicheng’s army was driven out of the capital by General Wu Sangui\\\'s soldiers with assistance from Qing troops. The Shun Dynasty came to an end and was replaced by the Qing dynasty. Yuan Cheng Zhi, devastated by the turn of events, left China for good together with Qing Qing, He Tie Shou, Jiao Wan Er, Luo Li Ru, some friends from Mount Hua, his father’s former soldiers, and his bandit followers.