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Six Chapters of a Floating Life
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Six Chapters of a Floating Life

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  438 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Chinese language edition.
Paperback, 80 pages
Published January 1999 by People's Literature Press (first published 1809)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Matt Turner
I took a trip to Suzhou this July, and I read this (a large portion of which takes place there) shortly after I returned to Beijing. I wish I had read it before the trip!

In any case, this is the incomplete account of a man rising and falling and rising again to grace in the literary and political circles of his time. Although a large section is about his wife (who his family dislikes, and who dies), by the end of the fourth (and final) chapter, I thought the main subject of the book was the guy'
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
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
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
Carlos Burga
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
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
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
This is lovely for a couple reasons. It's refreshing to think of a life happening in layers, and old world China's attitudes toward polyamory and concubines. And the author is very close to nature. He takes the nurturing of flowers and his garden quite seriously. There is lots of delicate art to the landscape too that is not taken for granted.
Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life is more than an autobiography; it is a life composed from poetry and flower petals. Somewhere between the beauty of the words is also found a glimpse into a moment in time that few Westerners understand, much less know of. It is inside these words that can be discovered new concepts and previously unknown ideals. Concepts foreign to Western society take on stiff definitions based on incomplete knowledge and broad stereotypes. In Six Records of a Floating ...more
I think the main appeal of this book is in the interest it holds as an anthropological study of the life of an early 19th century scholar. And I suppose it is interesting…I learned that being a drunken, jobless scholar used to be super tolerated in China, that women were treated like pets who couldn't leave the house, and that filial piety is confusing. Shen Fu’s story is absolutely not told in chronological order, which makes it pretty tedious…especially when coupled with the last chapter “The ...more
Had to read this for one of my classes. It was an interesting read. I definitely enjoyed seeing 16th century China through the narrators eyes.
Oh Ruby
Oh shouldn't have read it on the plane
I just wrote my final paper for a class on traditional Chinese lit on this book (it's pretty short). It's an autobiography about the pleasures of life, and the chapter I focused on was all about this guy's love for his wife. It is probably the most romantic thing written before 1900 in China, and the most egalitarian and respectful marriage recorded in writing before then, too. This book is really all Shen Fu is known for, but it's such a wonderful love story.
They are interesting people considering living in ancient times.
A vivid and deeply personal description of the author's life with his wife Yun. Exemplifies the spirit of idleness and blitheness. Creative organization, which each of the four chapters focusing on a different aspect of his life--the joys of marriage, their sorrows, hobbies, and life after his wife's death. Also serves as a social documentary of the life of a minor government employee during the Qing dynasty.
This book provides a great way to learn about the life of low-level government officials (those involved in the yamen system) in the Qing dynasty. The book can be a little slow and focuses on details modern audiences may not care about, but it also portrays a very unorthodox relationship between husband and wife that is a true partnership. Broken into four parts--I would recommend at least reading the first two.
This is a beautiful and meditative book. The last section is a bit challenging (it being mainly a description of all the various gardens and temples and whatnot Shen Fu visited), but I could read the first three sections over and over. They read like a dream, or very good poetry, and not like any other piece of narrative work.
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