Three gods come to a poor village in search of one good woman. They find such a one in Shen Te, a prostitute. She is hospitable to them, and in return they give her 100 pieces of money. With this she buys a tobacco store, and liberally gives board and room to the needy and to parasites as well. She determines to marry a man who wants to be a flier, and she goes into debt to give him the necessary money. Though the flyer is her love, he does not love her and will not marry her. Conditions worsen for her until she disguises herself as her cousin, and as such operates her business shrewdly and profitably, with no regard for others. As her cousin she is brought to trial for having kidnapped herself. The gods come to the trial and sum up the dilemma of the human struggle; it is more pleasing to the gods to be kind, but only the mercenaries prosper.