An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yantielun 鹽鐵論

Sep 13, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Yantielun 鹽鐵論 "Discussions on salt and iron" is a report on the discussions on the state monopoly during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 AD). Its author is Huan Kuan 桓寬 (early 1st cent. BCE).

In 81 BCE, Emperor Zhao 漢昭帝 (r. 87-74 BCE) summoned to the capital scholars from each district of the empire to discuss the most important problems of the time. The variously scholars stressed that the state monopoly on the production and distribution of salt and iron was the main reason for the suffering of the people. When Censor-in-chief Sang Hongyang 桑弘羊 contradicted this thesis a vehement discussion spun off. The scholars are often seen as the representatives of Confucian thought, which stressed a benevolent government, and the government's side as representatives of legalist thought, which laid emphasis the overall power of the state.

Based on the notes made during the discussions, Huan Kuan wrote a 60-chapters long literary report on the main topics of the discussion. He was, as a Confucian-trained scholar, on the side of the scholars and criticized Sang Hongyang and Tian Qianqiu 田千秋, the main representatives of the government side.

The best early print of the Yantielun is the Tuzhen edition 涂禎本 from the Hongzhi reign-period 弘治 (1488-1505). The most important modern commentaries are Guo Moruo' 郭莫若 (1892-1978) Yantielun duben 鹽鐵論讀本 and Wang Liqi's 王利器 (1912-1998) Yantielun jiaozhu 鹽鐵論校注.

There is a partial English translation (ch. 1-28) by Esson M. Gale (1931), Discourses on Salt and Iron: a Debate on State Control of Commerce and Industry in Ancient China (Leiden: Brill).

Table 1. Contents of the Yantielun 鹽鐵論
1. 本議 Benyi The basic argument
2. 力耕 Ligeng Hold fast the plough
3. 通有 Tongyou Circulation of goods
4. 錯幣 Cuobi Discordant currencies
5. 禁耕 Jingeng Hindrance to farming
6. 復古 Fugu Back to ancient truths
7. 非鞅 Fei Yang In criticism of Shang Yang
8. 晁錯 Chao Cuo Chao Cuo
9. 刺權 Ciquan Taunting the puissant
10. 刺復 Cifu Thrust and parry
11. 論儒 Lunru Discoursing on Confucians
12. 憂邊 Youbian Frontiers, the great concern
13. 園池 Yuanchi Parks and ponds
14. 輕重 Qingzhong The ratio of production
15. 未通 Weitong Undeveloped wealth
16. 地廣 Diguang Territorial expansion
17. 貧富 Pinfu The poor and the rich
18. 毀學 Huixue Vilifying the learned
19. 襃賢 Baoxian Extolling the worthy
20. 相刺 Xiangci Mutual recriminations
21. 殊路 Shulu How ways diverge
22. 訟賢 Songxian Impeaching the worthy
23. 遵道 Zundao Pursuing the way
24. 論誹 Lunfei Assertions and aspersions
25. 孝養 Kaoyang Filial piety and filial support
26. 刺議 Ciyi Cutting exchanges
27. 利議 Liyi Shrill polemics
28. 國疾 Guoji On national ills
29. 散不足 Sanbuzu Luxurious life leading to insufficiencies
30. 救匱 Jiukui Remedies for deficiency
31. 箴石 Qianshi The diagnostics stone for government
32. 除狹 Chuxia On escaping narrowmindedness
33. 疾貪 Jitan Taking corruption seriously
34. 後刑 Houxing The minor importance of the penal law
35. 授時 Shoushi Observing the seasons
36. 水旱 Shuihan Flood and drought
37. 崇禮 Chongli Holding high the rituals
38. 備胡 Beihu On preparedness against the steppe peoples
39. 執務 Zhiwu Holding high the most important tasks
40. 能言 Nengyan Talking about matters without completing them
41. 取下 Quxia On the fairness to taxe taxes from those below
42. 擊之 Jizhi Making war against the steppe peoples
43. 結和 Jiehe Concluding peace with the steppe peoples
44. 誅秦 Zhu Qin About the failure of the Qin dynasty
45. 伐功 Fagong The advantage of expansionist politics
46. 西域 Xiyu The usefulness of the protectorate of the Western Territories
47. 世務 Shiwu The political challenges of the present age
48. 和親 Heqin Appeasement of the steppe peoples by marriage alliance
49. 繇役 Yaoyi On tax and corvée labour
50. 險固 Xiangu On border defense
51. 論勇 Lunyong About the use of military bravery
52. 論功(=攻) Lungong About the use of military force
53. 論鄒 Lun Zou About Zou Yan's theory of governing the empire
54. 論菑(=災) Lunzi About natural disasters
55. 刑德 Xingde Administration by the penal law and government by virtue
56. 申韓 Shen Han The doctrines of Shen Buhai and Han Fei
57. 周秦 Zhou Qin The government style of the Zhou and of that of the Qin dynasties
58. 詔聖 Zhaosheng Adhortation to follow the path of the Saints
59. 大論 Dalun Summary
60. 雜論 Zalun Miscellaneous notes to the book
Polnarov, Anatoly (2018). "Looking Beyond Dichotomies: Hidden Diversity of Voices in the Yantielun 鹽鐵論", T'oung Pao, 104/5-6: 465–495.
Wagner, Donald B. (2001). The State and the Iron Industry in Han China (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Publishing).
Wu Shuping 吳樹平 (1992). "Yantielun 鹽鐵論", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1364-1365.