Ye Xian is the daughter of a scholar who has two wives. When her mother and then her father die from a local plague, Ye Xian is forced to become a lowly servant and work for her father's other wife and her stepmother's daughter. Despite living a life burdened with chores and housework, she finds solace when she ends up befriending a beautiful fish in the pond. With golden eyes and scales, the fish is the reincarnation of her mother, who now watches out for her.
Angry that Ye Xian has found happiness, her stepmother kills the fish and serves it for dinner for herself and her daughter. Ye Xian is devastated until a spirit appears and tells her to bury the bones of the fish in pots at each corner of her bed. The spirit also tells her that whatever she needs will be granted if she talks to the bones.
The local takes place, where many young women will have the opportunity to meet potential suitors. Not wishing to spoil her own daughter's chances, Ye Xian's stepmother forces her stepdaughter to remain home and clean their cave-house. After her stepfamily has left, Ye Xian is visited by her mother's spirit again. Her mother tells her to dig up the pots containing the fish bones and Ye Xian finds fine clothes, including a cloak of kingfisher feathers, jewellery, and a pair of golden slippers to wear to the festival.
Ye Xian dons the clothes and goes to the festival by foot. She stays and enjoys herself until she realizes her stepmother may have recognized her and leaves, accidentally leaving behind a . When she arrives home, she hides the clothes in the pots beneath her bed again. When her stepfamily returns, they discuss her stepsister's marriage prospects and also mention a mysterious maiden who appeared. They are unaware that it is Ye Xian they are speaking of.
The golden slipper is found and traded by various people until it reaches the hands of a nearby King. , he issues a search to find the maiden whose foot will fit into the shoe and proclaims he will marry that girl. The shoe eventually reaches the cave-house of Ye Xian, her stepsister and stepmother try to put on the shoe and fail. The shoe ends up fitting Ye Xian's foot perfectly.
In an attempt to dissuade the King from marrying Ye Xian, the stepmother declares that it was impossible for Ye Xian to have been at the festival. She saw the maiden who owns the golden slipper at the festival, the fine clothes she wore, and also mentions that Ye Xian was at home the entire time. Ye Xian proves her wrong by bringing out and putting the clothes she wore at the festival and the other golden slipper. The King, awed by Ye Xian's beauty, affirms that he will marry her. The stepmother makes a final attempt to dissuade the King from marrying her stepdaughter by accusing Ye Xian of stealing the maiden's golden shoe. To punish Ye Xian's stepfamily for their cruelty and dishonesty, he forbids Ye Xian from bringing them to live with her. They spend the rest of their lives in their cave until they are crushed by a shower of flying stones.
The novel ''Bound'' by Donna Jo Napoli is a retelling of this fairy tale.
''Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China'' retold by Ai-Ling Louie and illustrated by Ed Young is well-known children's picture book adaptation of the fairy tale.