2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Transformation of the Use
and Social Meaning of Salt in Early China

Pochan Chen

Department of Anthropology, National Taiwan University

Salt has been a major financial resource in China since the Han Dynasty. For this reason, many scholars argue that the production and distribution of salt was one of the most important factors in the emergence of Chinese civilization. Following recent archaeological research, as well as research on oracle bones, bamboo slips, cloth manuscripts, terracotta bricks, ancient texts and ethnography, this article demonstrates the importance of the role of salt in ancient Chinese civilization. However, it also argues that the social meaning of salt was transformed from that of a prestige good to a more general commodity between the prehistoric period and the Han Dynasty. Only after understanding how people used and regarded salt can we understand its influence on contemporary cultures and states.


Keywords: salt, prestige good, commodity, biography, social meaning