I was just awarded a full-year fellowship from the NEH to work on the first complete English translation of the Discourses on Salt and Iron (Yantielun 鹽鐵論), one of the most important classical texts to survive from the 1st century BCE in Han dynasty China. The Discourses on Salt and Iron is a work in sixty chapters, only twenty-eight of which have been previously translated into English. It purports to be a faithful recording of an imperial court debate held in 81 BCE between the government and its critics about whether to abolish state monopolies on iron and salt production that had been imposed four decades previously. And while some chapters do indeed discuss the state monopolies, the topics in the debate ranged widely, touching upon all the controversial political, military, economic, and social issues of the time. The Discourses on Salt and Iron thus constitutes a rare and indispensable snapshot of the political economy of the Han dynasty. The text is invaluable for understanding the political currents and economic policies of the most populous empire on earth near the turn of the common era.
This nine minute video interview by the site Faculti, from fall of 2021, explores Professor Barbieri’s newly published comparative study of Ancient Egypt and Early China.