He hailed from Runan 汝南 and in his early years studied the Gongyang Commentary 公羊傳 to the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals". During the reign of Emperor Xuan 漢宣帝 (r. 74-49 BCE) he was appointed court gentleman (lang 郎) and later became assistant governor (taishou cheng 太守丞) of the commandery of Lujiang 廬江.
With his broad education he was an ideal writer to be used also for government texts. During the reign of Emperor Zhao 漢昭帝 (r. 87-74 BCE) a conference was held on the state monopoly over the production and merchandise of salt, iron and liquors. Many years later Huan Kuan was instructed by his colleague Zhu Zibo 朱子伯 over the discussions during this conference and began writing down the particular positions of the participants.
The text of this book, the Yantielun 鹽鐵論, has been brought in the shape of a dialogue between the opponents. Except the state monopolies, the text also touches political questions of the time, like the power of the nomad federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴 in the north, or the general style of politics as a "rule of the law" versus "rule by virtue". Huan Kuan's book is an important document about the internal discussions about political affairs during the Former Han period.