During the time Zhongliang enjoys his upper class life with Lizhen, his father is killed by the Japanese commander in his hometown, and his mother, wife and son escape from his hometown in order not to be killed by Japanese soldiers. They become homeless and refuges from one place to another, living an unsettled life for a long time until the war ends.
Zhongliang goes back in Shanghai to continue his business there, and develops a secret relationship with Lizhen’s cousin sister, Wenyan. Meanwhile, Sufen becomes a maid of Wenyan’s house for living; otherwise, the couple never meet each other there. Until Lizhen returns to Shanghai, in a business party, Sufen finally recognizes Zhongliang. Zhongliang feels extremely embarrassed after being discovered his marriage. At the same time, he has to deal with the madness of Lizhen, the blame from his mother and his son, and the criticism from people around. After realizing Zhongliang’s betray is true and he will not come back, the hopeless and despairing Sufen suicides in the Huangpu River.
The film The Spring River Flows East not only details a story that might happen to a lot of Chinese families, but also pictures the severe, tough atmosphere of Chinese society during the war. Even though the war ends, people's life do not turn better due to the inflation after the war, the hard life of working class people and people’s betray to love, family and friendship in order to survive. The three parallel plots of the film make of the whole story, which is also three choices for people during and after the war. Zhongliang therefore represents people who give up their faith for living, while Sufen stand for the majority, who cannot choose their lives and only obey the flow of the society. The third life, which is not fully described in the film, is Zhongliang’s brother. He represents the life of people who insist on their faith and finally find out a way to live a happy life.
Besides, in a cinematic facet, this film is starred by mostly all the big stars in that era. The production design of the film is brilliant that even though it is black and white, you can almost feel the color and the atmosphere from every image. Every set is a picture of the life of people from different classes, shows delicate details suggesting people’s fashion and values. Therefore, the film is a miniature of Chinese people’s life in that special era.