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II. The Discourses and their Author

1. Huan K'uan and his Work

What is known of the author of the Discourses on Salt and Iron and the origin of his work is summarized in the preface to the hung-chih edition. This note, generally repeated in succeeding redactions, was composed by a scholar named Tu Mu 1 of Wu Chün 2 in the 14th year of the hung-chih3 era of the Ming dynasty (1501 A.D.), by way of a tribute to his fellow licentiate in letters T'u Chen. 4

"The Yen T'ieh Lun, consisting of 10 books in 60 chapters", wrote Tu, "was composed by Huan K'uan, tzŭ Ts'ŭ Kung, 5 a native of Ju Nan, 6 who served in the Han dynasty as the T'aishou-ch'êng7 of Lu Chiang. 8 The debate on salt and iron is said to have taken place in the shih-yuan9 era of the Emperor Chao (86—81 B. C.). The recommended Worthies and Scholars, 10 in response to an Imperial summons and inquisition, petitioned that the official monopoly of salt and iron in the Imperial commanderies and feudal states 11 be removed. A prolonged disputation ensued between them and the Lord Grand Secretary 12 the Yü-shih ta-fu, Sang Hung-yang. The salt and iron control was nevertheless not [materially] relaxed. 13

"During the reign of the Emperor Hsüan (73—49 B. C.), Master Huan developed and expanded the subject matter [in the form of a dialogue] 14 in order to establish a school of thought. The book was engraved and printed in the Sung dynasty; 15 but due to the lapse of many generations, it became gradually lost in transmission and was little known to people. Master T'u of Hsin Kan, 16 while in his second year of office at Chiang Yin, 17 found himself in a position to give effect to his administrative policies and to turn to numerous activities along hitherto neglected lines. In moments of freedom from his duties in renovating the people,18 he devoted himself to editing this book. From his own means he had it printed, so that students might enjoy the literature of the ancients in its complete form. Master T'u undoubtedly had in mind the benefit to his own age of the work's exposition of the principles fundamental to good government; its disapproval of private profiteering showed the way, moreover, how the state might be the gainer, for the advantage of posterity".

The work of the Han literatus Huan K'uan is thus cast in the form of a debate. This type of logomachy as a literary genre had been already suggested, in more or less formal style, in writings previous to Huan K'uan. Traditionally, the earliest of these might be taken to be the "Counsels of the Great Yü", 19 in its present recension, part of the spurious text in "ancient characters", faked by Mei Tsê 20 in the 4th century A.D., and the "Counsels of Kao Yao", 21 part of the authentic text, of the Shu-Ching (Part I, chaps. iii and iv).

The Mêng-tzŭ22 is largely in the form of dialogues. The work of Hsün-tzŭ, 23 the philosopher of the third century B.C., contains particularly a debate (chap. XV) on military questions between himself and the Lord of Ling Wu, 24 the King of Chao 25 presiding and occasionally interjecting an observation. At the beginning of the Shangchun-shu26 occurs a brief debate, 27 "On the reform of the law", an imitation of a discussion on the advisability of adopting the clothes of the Hu barbarians in chapter VI of the Chan-kuo-ts'ê.28

In fact, the literature of the ante-Han period may be classified as in the two categories of discourses and chronicles. The former is represented by a large part of the Shu-ching, by the Kuo-yü29 and the Chan-kuo-ts'ê30 ; while the latter is exemplified by the Ch'un-ch'iu, its three so-called commentaries, the Tso-chuan,31 the Ku-liang,32 and the Kung-yang.33 Even in the Tso-chuan, the novel method appears of a debate by means of quotations from the Shih-ching,34 which itself is in part antiphonal. 35 This form becomes, one may say, a literary obsession with Chinese writers beginning with Ch'ü Yüan's Chiu Wen,36 and continuing with Ssŭ-ma Hsiang-ju, 37 the Liang Tu Fu38 of Pan Ku 39 and their innumerable literary heritors. 40

In Chapter XXI of the Shih-chi, a debate is described between the scholars Yüan Ku, 41 tutor of the Prince of Ch'ing Ho, 42 and Master Huang, 43 on the question of whether Ch'êng T'ang 44 and Wu Wang 45 were justified in overthrowing the traditional tyrants Chieh and Chou. 46 The discussion pointed ultimately to justification of regicide and the name of the founder of the reigning house of Han, Kao Tsu, 47 emerged. The presiding Emperor Wu-ti enforced the clôture to the embarassing controversy by observing that "because one fond of meat did not eat horse liver, did not indicate that he was without a taste for delicacies; that is to say: because a scholar did not discuss T'ang and Wu assuming imperial authority, proved [only] that he was [discreet,] not stupid". 48 Again in 135 B.C., Wu-ti submitted to his council the question of the demands of the nomad Hsiung Nu for a royal marriage alliance. Whereupon Wang K'uei 49 and Han An-kuo 50 debated the matter. The famous VIth chapter of the Shih-chi represents the Ministers and Scholars assembled before the First Emperor of Ch'in, respectively offering their advice as to the conduct of the Empire. These speeches appear in extenso.

Thus an examination of literary material — and the examples cited could be multiplied — reveals the innumerable harangues and discussions of ancient China. From very early times obscure scribes had employed the debate between Sovereigns and their ministers as a literary artifice to express their own ideas. 51 The record of debates before the Throne from the Chou to the Han doubtless stimulated Huan K'uan to produce a literary work in the complete style of the debate. With a store of previous literary specimens cast in the same mould, and the historical debate of 81 B.C. to record, it is to be expected that he would employ this form. It thus fell to Huan K'uan to provide this perfected stylistic medium in the development of Chinese prose writings.

2. The Various Editions.

The earliest printed editions of the Yen T'ieh Lun, of which there is record, are the two noted in the bibliography of editions of works issued in the Sung and Yüan dynasties, entitled Sung Yüan pên shu-mu hsing-ko-piao.52 One is known as the Sung shun-hsi pên Yen T'ieh Lun.53 This is in 10 chüan.54 It has nine columns to each half-folio, and 18 characters to each column. It is called the Sung Yüan old edition.55 The information is quoted from the catalogue entitled Shu ching yen-lu.56 The other edition is the Sung pên Yen T'ieh Lun.57 It is described as in 12 chüan, with 10 columns to each half-folio, and 18 characters to each column. A description of the work is quoted from the catalogue entitled Ch'ih ching shu-mu:58 "On the back of the last folio of each chüan there is the following colophon in two columns: 59 "Fine edition published by the family of Chang the tax controller, a native of Chin-ch'i, in the year when the reign title was changed to shun-hsi [1174]". 60

One of the leading editors and commentators of the late Manchu period, Wang Hsien-ch'ien, 61 observes in his edition of the Yen T'ieh Lun:62 "The best copy of the Yen T'ieh Lun is the reprint of the chia-t'ai63 edition of the Sung dynasty [1201—1204]. This was made by T'u Chên, a mayor of Hsin Kan in the 14th year of hung-chih era in the Ming period [1501]. During the chia-ching period [of the Ming dynasty, 1522-1566], 64 Chang Chih-hsiang of Yün Chien 65 issued a new edition with explanatory notes, the text being divided into 12 chüan, the original having 10 books. This edition was reprinted by Wang Mo (Ch'ing era) 66 in his augmented edition of the Han Wei Ts'ung Shu, the Collected Works of the Han and Wei Dynasties.67 Due to omissions and changes in words and sentences, this particular recension has been criticized by authorities. Lu Wên-chao, [tzŭ Shao-kung 68 1717-1795], by means of a comparative study of the copy in the Yung-lo encyclopaedia, 69 the T'u edition and the Chang recension, made some corrections in his Additional Collectionof Miscellaneous Works, Ch'ün Shu Shih Pu.70 In the 12th year of chia-ch'ing [1807] 71 Chang Tun-jên, [tzŭ Ku Yü] 72 reprinted the T'u edition, supplemented by his Exegetical Notes,73 bringing out many points not covered by Lu.

If we are to rely on the results of Wang Hsien-ch'ien's researches, it may be concluded that the earliest edition preserved to Chinese scholarship in recent times was the chia-t'ai edition of the 13th century. That the records should point back to a printed edition of the Sung period is to be expected, as some centuries before Gutenberg and his press, the art of book-printing by engraved blocks reached the height of perfection in China.

The chia-t'ai edition is unfortunately lost to the world, but T'u's reprint of the hung-chih period of the Ming era is in current use; and its photographic reproduction is now available in the extensive anthology of Chinese literature known under the title of Ssŭ Pu Ts'ung K'an,74The Collected Reprints of the Four Divisions.75 This edition is regarded generally as the most authentic. It is not clear whether the manuscript copy included in the great encyclopaedia Yung-lo Ta Tien was taken from the chia-t'ai edition or from an independent source. As this anthology provided parts of the succeeding Imperial Complete Collection of the Four Libraries, the Ssŭ K'u Ch'üan Shu,76 another of the vast literary compilations of China and to which access has only recently been afforded, the question remains for investigation at some future time. The edition which Chang Chih-hsiang freely arranged as to organisation, punctuation and textual renderings (the text of the Han Wei Ts'ung Shu), does not mention its sources. Its variations from the T'u reprint, however, are now generally regarded as Chang's own work. 77 The Lu edition provides a text based upon a comparative study of the T'u reprint, the Yung-lo Ta Tien text, and Chang Chih-hsiang's edition.

The best edition today is doubtless that of Wang Hsien-ch'ien, published in 1891 78 by the Ssŭ Hsien Chiang Shê. 79 The text is based on the T'u reprint; but for the sake of comparative study, Wang inserts as notes in appropriate sections the textual corrections and comments of the preceding editors Chang Chih-hsiang, Lu Wên-chao and Chang Tun-jên. In addition he appends to his two volumes a body of "Minor Research Notes" of unusual value. These are formed from quotations from the Yen T'ieh Lun culled from various works of the T'ang and Sung dynasties. 80

In the preparation of the present translation into English, reliance has been placed chiefly on the invaluable edition of Wang-Hsiench'ien. The reprints in the Ku Shu Ts'ung K'an81 collection, and the Han Wei Ts'ung Shu (representing the Chang Chih-hsiang edition), and the Ssŭ Pu Ts'ung K'an reprint (T'u's edition), have been utilized in connection with Wang Hsien-ch'ien's annotated work. The texts made use of by Chinese editors of the Yen T'ieh Lun since the Sung era, and their relationship, are represented in the following chart. Necessarily the two editions of the shun-hsi era of the Sung dynasty, known only through the catalogues, are not included.

3. Authenticity of the Text.

Textual variations are to be found in the several extant reprints of the Yen T'ieh Lun. These are traceable doubtless to the inaccuracy of early scribes, who in the course of over a thousand years must have frequently recopied the work, before the block-printing of books in Ssŭ-ch'uan, from the ninth century A.D. 82 Moreover, there is much divergence of opinion among the various later editors as to the "corrections" which should be made. Nevertheless, no Chinese critic, ancient or modern, is on record, so far as investigations disclose, who questions the genuineness of this work of the first century before the Christian Era.

The earliest notice of the book is found in the Bibliographical Section of the Ch'ien-han-shu83 which lists "the ten books of the Yen T'ieh Lun by Huan K'uan". In the same work, in the chapter XXXVI on T'ien Ch'ien-ch'iu, 84 Chancellor when the debate on Salt and Iron took place and presiding officer of the forum, the concluding chapter of the Yen T'ieh Lun is quoted in extenso, though with some omissions and alterations of the wording. Yen Shih-ku, 85 the commentator of the T'ang period, appends the following note: "In Chao Ti's time the Chancellor and the Secretaries debated the salt and iron question with the Worthies and Literati. Huan K'uan edited the discourses." 86 To be sure, it cannot be ascertained whether the excerpt in the Ch'ien-han-shu represents the original text of Huan K'uan. It is possible to believe that the quotation is a modified citation which Pan Ku, the great historiographer of the early Han dynasty, made to suit his own literary taste. Chinese prose writing developed with extraordinary rapidity in the century between the two writers; and already Huan K'uan's style may well have appeared archaic in thought and expression to the skilful artist in rhythmic prose who composed the celebrated fu of the "Two Capitals".

Throughout succeeding centuries, the Discourses receive due notice in dynastic histories, in the sections devoted to bibliographical notices. Thus the Sui-shu87 (ch. 34), the Chiu T'ang-shu88 (ch. 47), the Hsin T'ang-shu89 (ch. 59), and the Sung-shih90 (ch. 205), each list the Yen T'ieh Lun in ten chüan. Huan K'uan is named as the compiler in each case, and is classed with the Confucian writers. The three great early encyclopaedic compendia of literature, aften grouped together as the San T'ung,91 equally take notice of the work, either by unacknowledged extracts from its text (a not uncommon practice of the compilers of these Lei-shu92 or anthologies), or by direct name and citation. Thus the T'ung Tien93 (ch. 10) and the Wên Hsien T'ung K'ao94 (ch. 15) quote at length from the Yen T'ieh Lun without indicating the source. The T'ung Chih95 does the same in ch. 62; while in ch. 66 of the latter and ch. 209 of the Wên Hsien T'ung K'ao, Huan K'uan and his work in ten chüan are listed. In all these notices, the author of the Discourses is grouped among the ju-chia writers, save in the Wên Hsien T'ung K'ao, where its compiler, the celebrated Chinese economist Ma Tuan-lin, 96 places him among the writers on economics.

Internal evidence is lacking, as well, to cast doubt upon the general authenticity of the work ascribed to Huan K'uan, or to indicate that it was in whole or in part a fabrication of later writers, despite the proneness of Chinese scholars of the early centuries of our era to foist upon the literary world spurious productions of their own as the works of the ancients. The style of the language throughout, save where obvious glosses of the scholiasts occur, reveals that it is a work of one hand. The philosopher and essayist Wang Ch'ung 97 provides a very early reference to Huan K'uan and his discourses on salt and iron, in the XXXVIIth chapter of the Lun Hêng: "It is very difficult to equal Huan Chün Shan's writings. When two blades cut one another, we see, which is sharp and which blunt, and when two treatises are composed together, one finds out, which of the two is right and which wrong. This is the case of the `Four Difficulties' by Han Fei Tse, the treatise on `Salt and Iron' by Huan K'uan and the `New Reflections' by Huan Chün Shan". 98

Differing from such ante-Han classics as the Kuan-tzu or the Shang-chün-shu or the monumental but somewhat discredited Chou-li, there is nothing in the Yen T'ieh Lun to lend itself, or give inducement, to fabrication. It does not assume to be the work of a great and original thinker, for with extraordinary objectivity the author sets forth the arguments of two schools of thought, and it is only due to certain subtleties of presentation that the editor of the debate slyly indicates his prejudices 99 in favor of the doctrinaire scholars and thus merits in the Imperial catalogue a somewhat reluctant assignment to the ju-chia, adherent of the "Confucian" school. 100

Huan K'uan thus does not expound exclusively the doctrines of any particular school, however many there were in his day. In fact the arguments placed in the mouths of the government spokesmen are frequently all too convincing to the Western reader! Yet, as indicated, the author's sympathy is with the Confucianists. Nor does he advocate any systematized program of political, social and economic reform or reconstruction such as is found in the much disputed Chou-li, save in the way of pleas, voiced by the Worthies and Literati in the debate, for economic measures of a more laissez faire nature, and for a more conservative foreign policy. These are only natural reactions of the national exhaustion induced by the over-active reign of "The Conqueror", Wu-ti. All evidence then points to the conclusion that the Yen T'ieh Lun is the authentic work of Huan K'uan in the first century before our era, despite some possible minor corruption of the extant text. It cannot be held, to be sure, that it is an exact and literal record of the discussions of the famous forum of 81 B.C., as they took place between the unofficial "opposition" and the government spokesmen; but that it is generally faithful to the principles and policies which might well have been advocated in the verbal joust before the Throne, there is no sufficient reason to doubt. 101


1. 都 穆.

2. 吳 郡.

3. 宏 治.

4. 涂 楨.

5. 桓 寬 字 次 公.

6. 汝 南.

7. 太 守 丞.

8. 盧 江.

9. 始 元.

10. 賢 良 文 學.

11. 郡 國.

12. 御 史 大 夫.

13. Cf. YTL., ch. XLI, concluding para., where it is stated that the lequor excise and the iron controllers in Kuan-nei were removed as a consequence of the objections of the Worthies and Scholars.

14. Omitted in some editions.

15. For recorded Sung editions see section 2, p. XXXV, infra.

16. 新 淦.

17. 江 陰.

18. 親 民, an elegant literary touch, Ta-hsüeh, para. 1.

19. 大 禹 謨.

20. 梅 赜.

21. 皋 陶 謨.

22. 孟 子.

23. 荀 子.

24. 靈 武.

25. 趙.

26. 商 君 書.

27. Shang-chün-shü ch. I, para. 1 [Duyvendak 167—175].

28. Duyvendak, Book of Lord Shang, 146.

29. 國 語.

30. 戰 國 策.

31. 左 傳.

32. 榖 梁

33. 公 羊

34. 詩 經.

35. Cf. Granet, Fêtes et chansons anciennes de la Chine.

36. 屈 原,九 問.

37. 司 馬 相 如.

38. 兩 都 賦.

39. 班 固.

40. For the place of these writers in Chinese prose, cf. Margouliès, Evolution de la prose artistique chinoise, passim.

41. 轅 固.

42. 清 河 王.

43. 黃 生.

44. 成 湯.

45. 武 王.

46. 桀 紂.

47. 漢 高 祖.

48. 食 肉 不 食 馬 肝 不 為 不 知 味 言 學 者 無 言 湯 武 受 命 不 為 愚.

49. 王 恢.

50. 韓 安 國>.

51. Cf. Maspero, La Chine Antique, 435—436.

52. 宋 元 本 書 目 行 格 表.

53. 宋 湻 熙 本 鹽 鐵 論.

54. 卷.

55. Loc. cit., chüan b, 19 b.

56. 書 經 眼 錄.

57. 宋 本 鹽 鐵 論.

58. 持 靜 書 目.

59. 湻 熙 改 元 錦 溪 張 鹽 稅 宅 善 本.

60. The writer is indebted to Mr. M. J. Hagerty, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, for these bibliographical notes.

61. 王 先 謙.

62. Cf. Vol. II, notes, p. 1.

63. 嘉 泰.

64. 嘉 靖.

65. 雲 間 張 之 象.

66. 王 謨.

67. 漢 魏 業 書.

68. 盧 文 弨 字 召 公. Giles, Biogr. Dict. 1438.

69. 永 樂 大 典. An encyclopaedic work of unparallelled bulk (11,095 volumes containing 22,937 books) compiled from 1403 to 1409 A. D., by order of the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty, whose reign title was Yung-lo. Cf. W. T. Swingle's description of this monumental work in Reports of the Librarian of Congress, Orientalia added, 1922—23, 187—195.

70. 羣 書 拾 補.

71. 嘉 慶>

72. 張 郭 仁 字 古 餘.

73. 考 證.

74. This assembly of the "bibliographic riches of China" consists of photographic reproductions of famous old editions of important Chinese works. Cf. W. T. Swingle, op. cit., 1922—23, 174 seq. It is published by the Commercial Press, Ltd., Shanghai.

75. 四 部 業 刊.

76. 四 庫 全 書. Only the catalogue of this work has been printed, containing about 10,585 separate works, representing upwards of 36,000 volumes. A set of this marvelous compilation made in the ch'ien-lung era (1736—1795 A. D.), is recently announced as having been placed in the new Metropolitan Library at Pei-p'ing.

77. Franke in his recent analysis of the Yen T'ieh Lun (Staatssozialistische Versuche im alten und mittelalterlichen china, Sitzungsberichten der Preus. Akàd. der Wissenschaften, Phil.-IIist. Klasse. 1931. XIII, 223—225, 223, note 1) describes only the Chang Chih-hsiang edition of 12 ci an. The original number of chüan was ten, as indicated in early bibliographical references. Cf. p. xl, infra.

78. 光 緒 辛 卯.

79. 思 賢 講 舍.

80. E. g., the Pei T'ang Shu Ch'ao 北 堂 書 鈔, (circ. 601—610 A. D.); the l Wên Lei Chü 藝 文 類 聚 (circ. 627—649 A. D.); the T'ai P'ing Yü Lan 太 平 御 覽 (circ. 983 A. D.); the Ts'ê Fu Yüan Kuei 冊 府 元 龜 (circ. 1005 A. D.); and the Ch'u IIsueh, Chi 初 學 記(T'ang period)

81. 古 書 業 刊.

82. Cf. Carter, The Invention of Printing in China and its spread Westward, in Chap IX, 48.

83. Loc. cit., ch. XXX, Literary Records, ll.

84. 田 千 秋.

85. 顏 師 古.

86. 撰 次 之.

87. 隋 書.

88. 舊 唐 書.

89. 新 唐 書.

90. 宋 史.

91. 三 通.

92. 類 書.

93. 通 典 (early 9th century).

94. 文 獻 通 考 (13th century).

95. 通 志 (12th century).

96. 馬 端 臨.

97. 王 允, d. circ. 97 A. D.

98. 論 衡. Forke's translation, I, 468.

99. Cf. p. xlix, infra.

100. Cf. Franke, op. cit., p. 223, conclusion of note 1.

101. "An seiner Echtheit zu zweifeln haben wir keinen Grund", agrees Professor Franke, op. cit., 223.

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