Three gods descend to earth, as more and more complaints about its uninhabitability them. They agree on a minimal consensus: the conditions can remain as they are, if enough good people can be found who can afford to live a decent existence. The gods give the prostitute Shen Te start-up capital to open a small tobacco store. Suddenly Shen Te finds herself surrounded by supplicants who want to share in her modest prosperity. Shen Te creates an alter ego for herself, appearing as her unscrupulous cousin Shui Ta. He establishes a tobacco factory where the employees are forced to work under undignified conditions. When a rumor arises that Shui Ta has murdered his cousin, Shen Te finds herself surrounded on all sides.
The gods have had their day. They steal away their responsibility, refer people to themselves and finally return to heaven, to "nothingness", in a battered state. Goodness as an absolute moral law seems impossible.
The question of whether moral sentiment can be regarded as the supreme maxim of action has occupied philosophy since time immemorial. Bertolt Brecht's parable play, which premiered in Zurich in 1943, condenses this dilemma: Can a good person survive in the capitalist economic system, or is goodness only made possible by ruthlessness? Shen Te, the good woman of Sezuan, calls on the responsibility of each individual: "Oh, you unfortunates! Violence is done to your brother, and you close your eyes! The victim cries out loudly, and you remain silent?