Iron and Steel in Ancient China


This book is a study of the production and use of iron and steel in China up to the second century B.C., and simultaneously a methodological study of the reconciliation of archaeological and written sources in Chinese cultural history.
An introductory chapter describes and discusses the available sources and their use, gives a brief outline of early Chinese archaeology and history, and develops certain important themes, especially the interaction of North and South in early China. Further chapters consider the invention of iron in a barbarian culture of southeast China, its spread to the area of Chinese culture, and the development of a large-scale iron industry in the third century B.C. The technology of iron production in early China is considered in two chapters, on the microstructures of wrought and cast iron artifacts.


EUR €189.00USD $230.00

Biographical Note

Donald B. Wagner has published extensively in the history of science and technology in China. His research has been supported by fellowships under the Danish Research Council for the Humanities, the Carlsberg Foundation, the University of Copenhagen, and the Julie von Müllen Foundation.

Review Quote

' ...presents a wealth of new material together with a penetrating discussion of all aspects of the evidence...will remain a major source of information and ideas - a milestone in our understanding of the development of China.' P.T. Craddock, Antiquity, 1994. ' ...cet ouvrage érudit rendra aux archéologues, mais aussi à tous les curieux de l'histoire des techniques, un innmense service.' Alain Thote, Arts Asiatiques, 1994. ' It constitutes a notable contribution to the history of early Chinese technology and illuminates important facets of the technology of early Chinese history.....The book contains a wealth of carefully analysed archaeological data which will maintain its value even if the hypothesis of the Wu origins of iron and steel technology should be abandoned.' Jens Østergård Petersen, Acta Orientalia, 1994. ' ...très détaillée...offre un panorama complet des découvertes…' Alain Thote, Revue Bibliographique de Sinologie, 1993-1994. ' ...the book will remain a goldmine of information on early Chinese iron metallurgy.' Gina L. Barnes, Eaannouncements, 1994. ' Its consciousness of methodological issues and its meticulous weaving of written sources with material, archaeological evidence into a readable narrative text make this a remarkable, and extremely useful book. Mary E. Tiles, China Review International, 1995. ' Wagner's book is [...] water in the desert for those interested in the topics that it covers. The quality of the drink is moreover excellent. There is no doubt of Wagner's control of his varied and multifarious source material, or of his understanding of the highly technical issues that such a topic must necessarily raise. Better still, this is an honest and open book. Meanwhile, this book is quite sufficient to make his reputation as a world authority on its topic. Its quality of production and editing by Brill matches the value of its contents.' C. Cullen, African Studies, 1995. ' Wagner's study is a thought-provoking work based on comprehensive examination and meticulous analysis of primary textual sources, archaeological finds, and metallurgical research. Highly recommended for both content and scholarship.' L.J. Bilsky, Choice, 1994. ' Zusammenfassend: Wagners Studie ist eine Fundgrube, reich an Fakten wie an Gedanken und Anregungen.' Magdalene von Dewall, Technikgeschichte, 1996. ' The book is full of stimulating hypotheses, always identified as such. Some have a relevance that goes well beyond the subject of this volume.' Peter J. Golas, Bulletin Ecole Française Extreme Orient, 1995. ' this study demonstrates the importance and value of studying technology for understanding the economic and military basis of the early Chinese states. It will be a long time before we read another author who is as silled as Wagner was in explaining terms comprehensible to the general reader the intricacies and significance of the development of bronze and iron casting techniques.' Robin D.S. Yates, The Journal of Asian Studies, 1997. ' There is no doubt that Wagner's thorough, critical and careful study will be a milestone not only for research on the history of metallurgy in China, but, in many ways, also for investigations of the history of Chinese production techniques in general.' Hans Ulrich Vogel, Centaurus, 1997.


Research institutes, academic libraries, students of the history of technology/science, or early Chinese history and archaeology, archaeometallurgists, and archaeologists interested in a broader introduction to Chinese archaeology than that provided by art-historical works.