An effective early sound film, Plunder of Peach and Plum narrates the tragic fate of Tao Jianping, a victim of society’s iniquity and corruption. The film begins when Tao (a homophone for ‘peach’) is about to be executed and meets his school principal in his cell. Tao tells him how his life went wrong despite all of his efforts. His narration begins on the day of his graduation. Married to Li Lilin, Tao starts working for a shipping company but he is later fired when he is too honest to ignore a violation of the safety laws.
While Tao looks for other jobs, his wife Li (a homophone for ‘plum’) decides to work as a secretary. Things improve when Tao also finds a job in a construction company, but he loses it because he again refuses to break safety laws. Shortly afterwards, Li is sexually harassed by her boss. She escapes unharmed, but the incident causes a serious row between the couple. Tao picks up a very low-paying job; they move to cheaper and cheaper apartments. After their baby is born Li falls down the stairs and is seriously ill. In order to buy her medicine, Tao asks for an advance on his salary but he is refused. Although Tao steals the money anyway, Li dies soon after. After her death things only get worse. Not having any food for his child, Tao abandons her in an orphanage. As soon as he gets home, the police come to arrest him for theft. Tao is then held responsible for the death of a police officer who is killed in the ensuing chase.
After Tao is executed, the film ends with the famous ‘Graduation Song’ (lyrics by Tian Han and music by Nie Er), which encourages the students to become the elites of society, but which is also an ironic commentary on Tao’s tragic life. This tragedy of urban life is implied in the film’s title, which plays off the Chinese connotation of ‘peaches and plums’ (tao li) as students, as hope for a better future. —chinesecinema.ucsd.edu