To rescue her family from poverty, 17-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Chinese emperors wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the Forbidden City, and discovers a complex, dangerous world beneath its immaculate facade. Orchid succeeds in bribing her way into the royal bed and seducing the emperor - little knowing that China is collapsing around her, and that she will be its last Empress.