During the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century, anti-Qing (Manchu) Chinese forces led by Taiping commander Li Xiucheng march on Shanghai. Although the Western powers are officially neutral, the British consul in Shanghai sides with the Qing imperial government, and counter to his own government's policy he retains American adventurer Frederick Townsend Ward to raise a mercenary force of foreigners in Shanghai and oppose the Taipings. Ward's force is routed, with heavy casualties, but since many of the casualties are British, the British army soon is drawn in on the side of the Qings. The only support for the Chinese comes from Japanese in Shanghai and anti-imperialist demonstrations in Japan. A family drama plays out against this historical background. After a Chinese home is destroyed by careless British shelling, killing the father and crippling a daughter, the surviving son vows revenge but begins to see that his true friends may be the Japanese.