Qiang is a four-year-old little rebel, possessed of a pair of luminous eyes and a precociously indomitable will. His father deposits him at a well-appointed residential kindergarten in post-1949 Beijing, since his parents are often away. Life at the kindergarten appears rich and colourful, made up of a variety of cheerfully sunny rituals and games meant to train these children to be good members of society. But it's not so easy for Qiang to adapt to this kind of carefully organized, minutely scrutinized collective life. A fierce individualist in miniature, he tries but fails to conform to the model his teachers enforce. Yet he still craves the reward that the other students win: the little red flowers awarded each day as tokens for good behaviour. But Qiang doesn't win any flowers: he can't yet dress himself, and doesn't play together with the other kids. He even dares to talk back to the strict Teacher Li and Principal Kong when they try to impose some discipline on him. Gradually, his charisma and bravado start to win over his classmates: their stealthy little rebellions gain steam when he succeeds in convincing everyone that Teacher Li is a child-eating monster in disguise. When their attempt to capture her is thwarted, Qiang's resistance develops a more disturbing dimension, and he is forcibly ostracized from his companions. Will he succumb to the adult-enforced conformity around him, or will he insist on growing up his own way, by his own rules?