Hot shot young lawyer Bill Holden and his wife Becca move with their four year old daughter to the booming, gold–rush city of Shanghai, a place of enormous wealth and crushing poverty, of opportunity and temptation, where fortunes are made and foreign marriages come apart in spectacular fashion.
Bill's law firm houses the Holden family in Paradise Mansions – a luxury apartment block in Shanghai's Gubei New Area, where in a curious revival of the concubine system newly rich Chinese men install their second wives – fabulous young beauties like JinJin Li, ex–school teacher, crossword addict, would–be TV presenter, dedicated roller skater and the Holdens' glamorous neighbour.
After Becca witnesses a tragedy that awakens her to the reality of life beyond the bright lights and glitzy surface of the city, she despairs of life as a Shanghailander and returns temporarily to London with Holly – and Bill and JinJin are thrown together.
But can a western lawyer steal a Chinese millionaire's mistress? How does a man give up his wife when she is also his best friend? And how can a loving father ever walk out on his child? He wants to be a better man than the millionaire who keeps JinJin Li as a blue chip bit on the side. But, in the end, will he treat her any better and give her the love she deserves? And when Becca returns to the city can either of them ever recover from the cost of straying?