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Six Records of a Floating Life
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Six Records of a Floating Life

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  900 ratings  ·  91 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. In this intimate memoir, Shen Fu recounts the domestic and romantic joys of his marriage to Yun, the beautiful and artistic girl he fell in love with as a child. ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by Penguin Classics (first published 1809)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  900 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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Jun 13, 2011 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
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was very enjoyable, a wonderful social commentary of 18th/19th century China. It has some fantastic stories and insights into Chinese life.
Two things stopped this being 5 stars, the first is that despite the title, there are only 4 records, the remaining 2 did not survive, although someone did try to forge the remaining 2 early in the 20th century, and the second thing was the way the "notes" system works. Each of the 4 surviving records have a number of specific Chinese idioms or exp
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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, wh
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
I was in the mood for something old that casually went against the grain of centuries of Euro propaganda by simply existing, and low and behold, this work rose to the top. I hadn't started it expecting an affirmation of a Tumblr post gushing about China's 3000 years of queer history, but it did that and more, giving a wonderful view into a life with things akin to 'Boston Marriages' alongside such a loving relationship between wife and husband that it reaffirms the fact that the solution to miso ...more
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
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
Jun 09, 2010 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
Mar 25, 2012 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 w
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Guinness World Record for This Floating Life on GoodReads

Click below to find out whether you (or your nominee) won the Guinness World Record for floating the most old GoodReads reviews in the last twelve months:

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Mar 16, 2015 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
Feb 14, 2013 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
Feb 04, 2016 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.
Nico Lee
Aug 21, 2016 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.
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
In terms of pure romance, this is a 5 star genuinely warming love story, a story made ever more pure by the heartache and misfortune (though this doesn't preclude some naughty fun in Canton later in the book) that befalls the author in the book's later pages. Subject matter beyond the matters of romance can be skimmed over unless you care for the intricacies of various parks and mountains in Zhejiang and Jiangsu and how nice it was to "chill with the boyz" in these scenic places. Make sure to re ...more
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
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A Westerner’s impression of 19th century China - if that Westerner has one - may well be summed up by the cover illustration of this book. It is a world as remote as that of medieval chivalry, distant from us in both time and space; a world of elaborate customs and ritual, both beautiful and impenetrable.

But Shen Fu speaks to us, in this translation, with a surprising immediacy. He does things that we might well have done - quarrels with his parents, falls in love, gets drunk, goes t
Jan 26, 2016 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
Sep 16, 2010 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 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
May 22, 2007 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.
Jackson Cyril
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
Dr. Johnson noted that the final purpose of a biography should be the edification of the reader, through examples and circumstances drawn from the study of one life: Carlyle, defending Boswell's biography of Johnson against Macaulay's acrimonious attacks, added that the aim of biography was to capture fully the time and person being described. Shen Fu's work is not a biography, but rather an autobiography-- but it is arranged thematically, which leads me to think that the author was not so much ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book more than I didn’t, but in taking a break from it for most of January didn’t really do myself a favor. I like the crisp direct descriptions of events and places, but the final chapter is so full of the interesting proper names of places with accompanying asterisked footnotes of present locations that I began to get physically tired reading the book. It is definitely an interesting window into a life of this particular guy in this particular time and place. The frequent descri ...more
May 10, 2010 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
Adelaide Mcginnity
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you enjoy reading diaries, or other works of "private" literature for the purpose of gaining insight into a culture and a historical period, you might enjoy reading this record by Shen Fu of his life and struggles. I was particularly intrigued by his sense of what Marxists would call "bourgeoisie values" as applied in Manchu era China; from his actions in the face of dire financial circumstances, we learn that begging off friends and relations is considered a more appropriate means of maintai ...more
Tony Blackmore
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
A lovely little book, a Chinese romance centered on Suzhou.
Agoston Horanyi
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book, very insightful and also entertaining, paints a very detaild picture of high-Qing Chinese life and culture.
Tony Wang
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: other-shit
Memoirs of an 18th century Chinese sadboy
Very enjoyable and beautifully written book!
Jun 16, 2007 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
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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.
“The world is so vast, but still everyone looks up at the same moon” 2 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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