Having escaped the threat of persecution in Russia, Countess Sofia Belinskya is working as a taxi dancer in a seedy Shanghai bar to support her family of White Emigres, including her daughter Katya, her mother-in-law Olga, her sister-in-law Grushenka, and an aunt and uncle by marriage, Princess Vera and Prince Peter. Despite the fact employment is scarce and her meager income is the family's only source of revenue, Sofia's once-aristocratic relatives scorn her for her choice of profession and insist she keep it a secret from her child. Sofia eventually meets Todd Jackson, a former official of the U.S. State Department who recently lost his wife and children in separate terrorist bombings. The bombing that killed his child has also left him blind. Using his substantial winnings from a well-placed bet at the racetrack, he plans to open an elegant nightclub catering to the cosmopolitan upper class and invites her to work for him as his primary hostess, an offer she accepts, and in honor of her he christens his enterprise "The White Countess." As time passes, the two begin to fall in love, but neither will act on their feelings until the political climate around them slowly disintegrates, leading to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War and a mass exodus from the besieged city.