The text narrates an encounter and dialog between Yi Yin 伊尹 and the Shang king Tang 商湯. Yi Yin abandons the Xia 夏 king, and reports to Shang Tang the evils of Xia government, the suffering of the people, and celestial omens for the overthrow of Xia. The same narrative appears in the “Shen Da 慎大” chapter of the Lüshi Chunqiu 呂氏春秋, though with only occasional precise textual parallels.
The following loose transcription and translation aims at capturing the emerging consensus about what the text means. References to web publications on the text follow.
It was when Yin went from Xia to Bo [Shang Tang’s capital],
Carefully he arrived, and was in Tang’s presence.
Tang said: “Come! You have perhaps some fortunate intent [志 “intent” an error for 言 “news”]?”
Yin said: “My Lord, I come, having been on the road ten days now.
I have scrutinized the common people of Xia, they […] lucky and good,
but as for their Lord, he has lost all [good?] intention, is excessively fond of the two Jade Ladies, and has no sympathy for his common people.
The people indeed said: ‘We will perish together with you.’
It is a disaster: he abuses virtue, does violence to [?], and abandons the written codes.
The Xia have omens, in the West and in the East, seeing manifestations in the sky. Their people all say, ‘It is [the sign of] our swift calamity [or “It is we who have invited this calamity”].’
They all say, ‘Why now does the eastern omen not manifest itself? What shall we do now?’”
Tang said, “Is it all so, what you have told me of Xia’s secrets [or “eclipse”, or “agonies”]?” Yin said, “That’s how it is.”
Tang’s covenant was extended to Yin, and he thence busied himself with the great Ying ritual [for warding off meteorological calamity].
Tang went to campaign against those who would not ally with him.
Zhi [i.e. Yin] planned. Zhi’s virtue was not faulty.
From the west they destroyed the western settlement [Xia], and defeated the state of Xia.
Xia counted [i.e. took a census of] its people, entered into Shui, and talked of “battle”.
Di [i.e. Tang] said: “Spare not a single one.”