Item ID: 8211 Yan tie lun 鹽鐵論 [Discussions on Salt & Iron]. Kuan HUAN, or Guan.

“Our Most Important Source for the Workings of the Iron Monopoly”

Yan tie lun 鹽鐵論 [Discussions on Salt & Iron].

36; 19; 20; 27; 37; 31 folding leaves, neatly interleaved throughout. Ten juan in five vols., plus one vol. of commentary by Dunren Zhang. 8vo, modern blue wrappers, new stitching. [China]: 1807.

A rare and important edition of this notable text; the sixth volume contains the valuable commentary and notes of Dunren Zhang (1754-1834), Qing scholar, mathematician, historian, and book collector.

After the death of Emperor Wu in 87 B.C., his successor summoned to the capital scholars from throughout the empire to discuss the most important problems of the day. Emperor Wu had “implemented a series of centralized economic measures to support his territorial expansion, particularly to sustain wars with Xiongnu, a confederation of nomadic tribes from Central Asia. For example, the state monopolized salt, iron, and liquor industries; operated nationwide transportation facilities; and ran retail businesses. After the emperor died, the new emperor gathered his officials and more than sixty Confucian literati to reassess these measures. The consultation turned into a lengthy debate, not only on economic issues, but also on topics such as agriculture, border defense, diplomacy, legality, and Confucianism…

“The debate was later reconstructed under the title Yan tie fan by a Confucian bureaucrat-scholar, Huan Kuan, who consulted both living debaters and the historical record. The text delineates the debate in sixty episodes, spanning over several days. In each episode, the debaters focus on a specific issue that emerges during the debate.” (You, “Building Empire through Argumentation,” 369).

As a result of the debates, the monopolies on salt and iron were briefly abolished but were soon resumed, only to be abolished again after the overthrow of Emperor Wang Mang in 23 A.D.

“The text of this book, the Yantielun, has been brought in the shape of a dialogue between the opponents. Except the state monopolies, the text also touches political questions of the time, like the power of the nomad federation of the Xiongnu in the north, or the general style of politics as a ‘rule of the law’ versus ‘rule by virtue.’ Huan Kuan’s book is an important document about the internal discussions about political affairs during the Former Han period" ( [online]).

Fine set, preserved in a slightly worn hantao.


Wagner, Donald B. Ferrous Metallurgy. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. 5. Part 11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

You, Xiaoye. “Building Empire through Argumentation: Debating Salt and Iron in Western Han China.” College English, Vol. 72, No. 4 (March 2010).

Price: $9,500.00

Item ID: 8211