The story takes place in December 1937 during the Rape of Nanking. A small group of girls is trapped in a Catholic school, looked after by an American priest and a deacon. A group of prostitutes takes refuge along with them, and soldiers of the defeated Nationalist army force their way in. They live together in disharmony until the carnage and rape outside the compound walls brings them to stand up and face their respective destinies.
Zhang Yimou's movie, called "The Flowers of War" in English, is based on this Chinese-language novel. English and other language versions are due to be published in 2012.