In this adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel a woman marries a doctor and goes with him to China; she falls in love with a married man but stays with her husband during an epidemic.
After her sister's wedding Katrin (Greta Garbo) is left alone, as Walter Fane (Herbert Marshall) chooses to work with her father instead of dance. Later he asks her to marry, and he takes her to Hong Kong. Jack Townsend (George Brent) hopes that Katrin will make Walter more social. He shows her his dog and horse and places in Hong Kong. Jack is under a spell and kisses Katrin. Walter is busy, and Katrin eats alone. Jack takes Katrin to a festival, where a sun-god rescues a maiden from a dragon. A priest tells Katrin's fortune that love is close by. Katrin admits she is like Jack, not in love with her spouse. Walter tells Katrin she is most important to him; but he must help the world. He brings her Austrian magazines, sees Jack's hat, and learns of a cholera outbreak in China. Katrin refuses to go, and Walter asks for a divorce if Jack gets divorced. Katrin admits she does not love him but loves Jack. However, Jack's reluctance to get a divorce only out of duty changes Katrin's mind, and she goes with Walter.
Waddington (Forrester Harvey) welcomes them, saying the only other whites there are three nuns. Katrin thinks Walter brought her there to die. Walter asks General Yu (Warner Oland) about the infection and the water, telling him to burn the area. Yu says valuable hemp and silk are stored there. Katrin feels ambivalent toward Walter, and he feels sorry. Walter goes to the plague center and orders General Yu to burn the houses. Walter returns to the convent and is helped by Katrin. The Chinese people riot, and Walter tries to explain; but he is stabbed. Jack arrives to find Katrin praying for Walter and saying she loves him. Jack wishes them the best. Katrin nurses Walter and tells him not to leave her, because she loves him.
In the novel Walter dies of the plague, and the wife feels free except that she sleeps with Townsend one more time. The moralized film version has Katrin find love in her marriage. Walter's dedication wears off on her, as her respect for him grows when they are alone together. The British viewpoint shows the Europeans trying to save the ignorant Chinese, though there is some recognition of the subtlety of Chinese culture.