Originally published on Rue89, 23/3/2010.
The recent election debates in France and the results bring us back to a book written more than 2000 years ago, the translation of which has been released by Editions “Les Belles Lettres. “The Dispute over salt and iron” is a Chinese text astonishingly modern on governance that many politicians should read !
Judge by yourself with a few quotes:
“Now you pretend that you take from the rich to help the poor but the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. You have made the law more severe and increased punishments in order to put an end to crime … yet we are witnessing an increase. “
“Every ruler should have around wise advisers and provide positions to men of talent. But he is paralyzed by gossip, deceived by flattery. Thus good people are removed … “
“A population entangled in many regulations cannot avoid to break them. In order not to mislead people, the good ruler issues laws as bright as the sun and the moon … no need for an organization to enforce an order to which everybody will comply without reluctance.
This astonishing text, highly modern and easy to read, recalls very lively debates during an Imperial Council, between a group of wise men and scholars, Confucian elite from all provinces of the empire and the Grand Secretary, Song Hongyang, who actually is in power.
The debate opened on the monopolies of salt and iron, created to replenish the coffers of the state and which show obvious drawbacks. All economic and political problems are then discussed. On the government side, the needs of the Treasury and the mechanics of profit have nothing to do with moral considerations and principles set forth by our scholars.
This text, presented and translated by Jean Levi, was published in a bilingual edition. The first volume of the “Bibliothèque Chinoise” a new collection edited by Anne Cheng, professor at the College de France, and Marc Kalinowski, director of research at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.
The ambition is to develop the equivalent of the famous collection “Bude” for Greek and Latin authors, published by the same publisher. A program of a dozen books is already announced for the next two years.
Another translation is already available: “Masters words” by Yang Xiong, translated by Beatrice L’Haridon, is an important document in the history of Confucianism.
► “The dispute over salt and iron”, introduction, notes and translation by Jean Levi; ed. Les Belles Lettres, 540 pp., 27 €. Website: www.lesbelleslettres.com