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Six Records of a Floating Life

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  611 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
Six Records of a Floating Life (1809) is an extraordinary blend of autobiography, love story and social document written by a man who was educated as a scholar but earned his living as a civil servant and art dealer.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by Penguin Classics (first published 1809)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,611)
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Feb 27, 2015 Hadrian rated it really liked it
In the first lines of this book, Fu Shen apologizes for he is not a very skillful writer. This modesty is unbecoming of him, for Six Records of a Floating Life is a charming and well-crafted recollection of ordinary life in a distant place and time. He makes it real.

The title is unfortunately not accurate - though Fu Shen may have written six short pieces on his 'floating life', only four survive. The rest appear to have been lost to history.

The main focus of these reminisces is the story of Fu
Jul 17, 2016 Petra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-z-2016-2017
Wow! This was a lovely treat. I feel like I've gotten to know Shen Fu as a friend. He was kind, gentle, artistic, observant and loving to his wife. He was happy and content in Life, even while poor & close to destitute. At heart, his life was full of friends and cheer. It was a full life.
Shen Fu is a wonderfully intimate and personal writer. I felt like I was with him in his journey. His wife, Yun, was interesting and complex. The two loved each other throughout their time together, which do
Grace Tjan
Have you ever...

been married off to your first cousin at seventeen?

been thrown out of the house for "mishandling arrangements to obtain a concubine" for your father-in-law?

been obsessed with the idea of finding a concubine for your husband?

tried to purchase an underage singsong girl to be a concubine to both yourself and your husband?

wasted to death because you failed to arrange for a live-in threesome relationship with your husband and his concubine?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions
This was written in the late 1700s and early 1800s by a Chinese man who drifted between various clerical and artistic jobs.

Only four of the original six chapters exist, and it makes a very different style of storytelling: each chapter is thematic, and chronological within, but the book overall is not chronological, so some episodes are described in different chapters, in different ways (layers of floating records). It works very well, though the various notes, maps and appendices in this edition
Jun 09, 2010 Nick rated it it was ok
Well, actually it's only four records (unless one counts a forgery). Shen Fu was completely unremarkable in public -- enough so that no one knows how he died -- but his memoir, unusually candid and personal for Chinese literature, reverals him as a creature of intense feeling. He is admired for the loving portrait of his wife that this book includes, but he was also a man capable of devoting more pages to the handling of flowers than to his two children. Still, this is perhaps the most immediate ...more
Ian Vinogradus
Guinness World Record for This Floating Life on GoodReads

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Feb 17, 2013 Karen rated it it was amazing
I loved this book for several reasons. It is a rare and frank account of a failed literati during the Qing Dynasty; Shen Fu writes in an astonishingly intimate and emotional manner for his time and his upbringing giving the reader a glimpse into a world long gone. Despite the fact that Shen Fu believes he is a poor writer, his writing is lyrical, stark and incredibly romantic. Shen Fu, for all of his faults (and there are many), preserved for the ages the romance between himself and his wife Yun ...more
Nico Lee
Sep 08, 2016 Nico Lee rated it really liked it
Lovely little book, that basically posits whilst the world, it's structures, fluctuate around us, our individual thoughts about our small lives remain peculiar, particular and personal and therefore, perversely, in odd ways universal.
Andrew Fairweather
'Six Records of a Life Adrift' is really four records of a life adrift—Shen Fu's other installments were either lost or never completed. His first chapter 'Delights of Marriage' provided a brief antidote to raging loneliness. Shen Fu's marriage to Chen Yun seems like the stuff dreams are made of, two intellectual equals completely devoted to each other, the best of friends. The love affairs of Ovid and Catullus come to mind, Catullus barely holds a candle to the maturity of Shen Fu's love for Ch ...more
Mar 16, 2015 Harperac rated it really liked it
Shelves: criticism, china
Fu Shen comes across as an unpretentious man who is merely interesting in the unpretentious appreciation of things. These include the arts, the places he travels too, but most importantly his deep and passionate love for his wife.

Of the four surviving chapters, the first one was the best. It's about the married life that Fu Shen shared with his wife Yun and their many happy moments. (He saves the unhappy moments for the third chapter.) He renders Yun with a magnificent eye for detail - the sheer
Shen Fu's Six records of a Floating Life is too short! Granted two chapters have gone missing since it was written in 1806 I wish there was more. I loved it so much. Well all except the bit about flower arranging and landscaping though I could understand why it was in there. It was a very touching autobiography of the life of a man livining in late 18th Century China who was usually broke but sometimes worked for the government, sometimes as an art dealer, but mostly just sat drinking with his w ...more
Mar 27, 2012 Andrew added it
Shelves: memoir
When I read Chaucer for the first time, I thought "how contemporary this all is!" And when I read Shen Fu, I came to realize that he was a sort of Jack Kerouac of late 18th Century China. He:

--Has a badass wife who recites poetry
--Tries to pick up young women
--Spends a lot of time traveling around with his bros looking for Enlightenment and getting hammered

For those of you who are often confounded by the icy rigidity of so much classical Chinese prose, don't worry. Shen Fu is actually a pretty g
Oct 30, 2010 Jason rated it it was ok
Interesting book. It's a little slow and the chapter on travelling is not very interesting (this garden in this city you've never heard of is better than this other garden in another city you've never heard of). The first three chapters on marriage, lesiure and sorrow are worth reading. It gives insight into what makes up a man's life.

I wouldn't strongly recommend this book, but since it's only about 150 pages, its not much of a time investment if you're interested in life in China in the late
Dec 11, 2007 Andy rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Weirdos
Story about a bad time-management average-intelligence Chinese man in semi-recent China. I would've liked the book more if the author didn’t talk like a 7 year old through most of it. Good love story with his wife, stupid political story about his losing his jobs and how tradition and family values made his family disown him (two or three times I don’t remember) Like Ethan Frome, everyone's life would’ve been better if he had gone for the dignity of just ending it. But then the book would never ...more
Julian Meynell
Jun 18, 2015 Julian Meynell rated it really liked it
The book is really Four Records of a Floating Life, the last two records do not survive. It is autobiography, but it is divided into different themes, and whilst each of these records is chronological they overlap one another. The author Fu Shen was a minor bureaucrat with a failed career.

The book is very much of its time and place. The necessity of having a concubine for purposes of social climbing (and of course sex), foot binding and so on is taken for granted. The Chinese apparently consider
Feb 04, 2016 Maia rated it it was amazing
a book you should read before you die, absolutely unique, both as an autobiography from this period and from this culture. As most say, the stand-out chapter is the one on his marriage, but the ones on travels and aesthetics are great too. As i remember, the best one is first and the worst one is second and makes you want to give up, but it's the only stinker, so keep on! Plus, it's short. Read this.
Jeff Powanda
Sep 22, 2015 Jeff Powanda rated it really liked it
Reading this slim volume gave me a precious glimpse at the life of a struggling scholar and his young wife in Soochow in the late 18th century. In the Kindle edition that I read, it was really only four records of a floating life. Two of the records were found to be forgeries, so they were not included in the ebook. Too bad, because I'm sure I would have enjoyed them as well.
Ian Mchugh
Jun 30, 2016 Ian Mchugh rated it liked it
A very moving and poignant portrait of a marriage. Shen Fu's "Six Records" (only four of which survive) give not only an insight into 18th Century life in Suzhou and surrounds, but offer a story of the life of a scholar-administrator and his wife. The 'voice' of Yun, Shen Fu's wife, comes through here and the devotion and, in some cases hopeless romanticism, of the author and the moving way in which their relationship is described is thought-provoking.

The footnotes for the book and the accompany
Aug 21, 2007 Lydia rated it liked it
I loved this book, an autobiography of a clerk in China circa 1810 set in Souzhou. He is in love with his wife, has courtesans, deals with his demanding family, and is always at a loss for money, but usually finds a way to go out with his friends. A great view of an artistic family of the time.
Feb 18, 2016 Clayton rated it it was ok
A mixed bag. Fu Shen is a schmuck, sometimes lovable and sometimes awful, and his candor, when the polite self-effacement stops, can be fascinating. I don't know how many folks had the means or interest in documenting real, ordinary life in 18th century China, but I suspect there's not much, at least in English.

The problem is that some of Fu Shen's self-effacement, especially about his writing, is well-earned: he is (at least in translation) not a distinguished writer of prose, and has the unfo
May 17, 2010 Sophie rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The translation is super awkward and exotifies everything Shenfu writes in charming ways.

-There are also great differences between our modern ideas and Shen Fu's of just what a book ought to be. The Six Records is not the chronologically constructed tale that we are now used to reading. Instead, Shen Fu takes particular topics and follows them each through his life, one at a time; the book is thus intended to be six different layers that add up to a 'floating life', each laye
Jun 16, 2007 Hilary rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in Chinese history *beyond* the imperial court
An illuminating look at life among the not-quite-elite at the apogee of the Qing dynasty.

Shen Fu was a late eighteenth-century private secretary in various local government offices in the Suzhou area. This is a series of diary-like (except not chronological) observations he made about his life. The private secretaries were the ones who helped the magistrates and other provincial officials carry out their tasks. Their job was very important, since the provincial officials they worked for were of
Jul 19, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it
This is one of those novels you want to linger through because it's so reflective (and the extensive notes at the back are totally necessary, so count on each page taking 2x as long to read). Despite plenty of normal guy things (boozing with the bros, mid-level clerical job, hitting on ladies) Shen Fu is anything but your average guy. He did DIY projects with his wife, reflected on the social position of women at the time, and loved growing flowers. He literally spent 10+ pages detailing the way ...more
Mar 23, 2013 Grace rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am rather amused while reading the reviews about this book, especially those who have rated only two stars. I think that it is reasonable enough to assume that those who rated 5 stars, are strongly influenced by the fame of Yutang Lin, the name of the translator. Although it is fair enough to say that the love story which was depicted in the text is 'interesting', nevertheless, to my personal point of view, a woman who can not give wise advise to her husband in order to lead a sensible and mor ...more
Dec 28, 2013 Bob rated it liked it
After about half way through the book, I've lost interest in Shen Fu's story. The first parts when he reminisce about his youth and what seems to be first love to his would be wife, I was hooked. It's a moving piece by a man who seems to be deeply in love and reliving all his romantic memories all over again. But, by the time the story rolls further, there simply are too many itineraries dumped in such a short time. As the story goes, there're less of fully fleshed experiences which makes me fee ...more
Jun 11, 2015 k rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
More formally interesting than actually interesting to read. Records one and three were compelling, the other two were too grounded in description to enjoy as such, though they did provide some insight into Shen Fu's character. Still, the style, with the layering of the records and the drifting transitions, is worth attention. Interesting to contrast to, say, Sei Shonagon.
Carlos Burga
Feb 17, 2013 Carlos Burga rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Although the book is sometimes filled with a list of minor details that can get to be exhausting, the book does serve to paint a picture of 18th century China that is largely unknown to western reader. What I thinks is very important is the type of narrative that it is. It doesn’t dwell into the administration of the empire but yet it strongly conveys the very bureaucratic and meritocratic nature of its society. On the other hand it also serves to show the life of a mundane and somewhat failed m ...more
Sep 20, 2012 Greg rated it liked it
This autobiographical narrative is concerned a classic Chinese text. It is a very interesting read, especially because Shen Fu seems to be an honest and critical interpreter of himself, his situation, and society in general. Of particular beauty is his description of his life with his childhood love and wife, Yun, despite the hardships she was forced to endure. He starts with a quote by the poet Su Tung-po, saying, “All things are like spring dreams, passing with no trace.” He regards his record ...more
Jul 19, 2016 Anamuan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
I love this book, particularly this translation. I hunted all over for a copy that was this particular translation by Lin Yutang.
What strikes me the most is how much this couple cared for each other, and the high esteem the author had for his wife. I reread those chapters often.
Jul 25, 2012 Levi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting. There's not much more I can give you. I mean it was written way back when by a complete commoner of the Qing Dynasty. He worked in several administrative offices but just wanted to travel to different mountains, scenic places in his world, and enjoy his life. The book ends abruptly as only 4 of the 6 records were recovered.
The book is simply filled with many short anecdotes of where he went, who he went with, who he met, what he saw, and what he did afterwards. He often makes refe
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Shen Fu (simplified Chinese: 沈复; traditional Chinese: 沈復; pinyin: Shěn Fù; 1763–1825?), courtesy name Sanbai (三白), was a Chinese writer of the Qing Dynasty, best known for the novel Six Records of a Floating Life.
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“In laying out gardens, pavilions, wandering paths, small mountains of stone, and flower paintings, try to give the feeling of the small in the large and the large in the small, of the real in the illusion, and of the illusion in reality. Some things should be hidden and some should be obvious, some prominent and some vague. Arranging a proper garden is not just a matter of setting out winding paths in a broad area with many rocks; thinking that it is will only waste time and energy.” 0 likes
“The world is so vast, but still everyone looks up at the same moon” 0 likes
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