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Six Records of a Floating Life (Penquin Classics) Paperback – November 17, 1983


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Product Details

  • Series: Penquin Classics
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (November 17, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140444297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140444292
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Leonard Pratt is the bureau chief for NBC News in Hong Kong. Chiang Su-Hui was born and educated in Taiwan. She has a degree in Chinese law and has worked as an educator, writer and broadcaster. Leonard Pratt is the bureau chief for NBC News in Hong Kong. Chiang Su-Hui was born and educated in Taiwan. She has a degree in Chinese law and has worked as an educator, writer and broadcaster.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 7, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are so many contradictions within this quirky memoir that it could only possibly be true.

This is a memoir of life right around the start of the 19th century. It recounts the adult life of Shen Fu, a man who appears to have been ordinary in the extreme. Although educated, he did not pass the literary tests of the civil service. At best, his career could have been a secretary under one of the successful examinees, but his times weren't always the best. His positions never lasted, and his business attempts failed. Often, he sold his possessions and his wife's down to the clothes on their backs (or less). He fell out with his family, in a time when filial duty was enforced by law, and became outcast in almost every sense.

But his life never wholly failed, either. Perhaps it was the glow of nostalgia, but his twenty-three years of marriage were always a joy to him, even when his wife's health failed, and even when she may have been the source of some of his problems. They had their times of poverty, but never to the point of starvation. He was honorable enough to quit a corrupt position when it offended his honor too deeply. He was devoted enough to heal the familial rifts. His joys and Yun's were simple - travel, each other, the beauty of the full moon, and maybe a little too much wine shared with happy company. Shen Fu and his devoted Yun never demanded much from their lives, and usually got enough to enjoy.

The text wanders. The first three chapters chart the ups and downs of the marriage to his beloved wife. She died early, from some frightening disease. Still, she and he accepted it stoically, or mostly did. The fourth chapter collects a few decades of moments together, the sights and sounds of travel.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Six Records" (also known as "Six Chapters of a Floating Life"), c. 1805, is an extraordinarily frank autobiography that is totally unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of Chinese literature. It describes the life of the author Shen Fu and his beloved wife, Ch'en Yun (1763-1803), in extremely revealing detail. The intimacy and joy shared by the couple are as unusual by normal standards of Chinese married life as is the author's daringness in revealing them to others. Their close, playful relationship stands in defiant opposition to the staid decorum of married life expected by Confucian ideology.
A thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring read. Ch'en Yun is a woman ahead of her time who admirably balances her love of learning and passion for life with her duties and obligations as a traditional Chinese wife.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
This is a most charming and touching story of a poor Chinese scholar-painter struggling to make a decent living under poverty and mounting debts. In his autobiography, Shen Fu shares with us his experiences, his love for a talented wife and other simple things in life, his family and friends, and travels throughout Manchu China. Despite mounting poverty, he has great passion for living and these records of his experiences and impressions are as relevant to us as it were to him 200 years ago. A highly recommended book and a definite "must-read" over the weekend.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Z. E. Lowell on October 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
I decided to read "Six Records of a Floating Life" after spending a summer in Suzhou, the city of Shen Fu's birth and his home for many years. When describing this work, my Chinese friends were quick to use words like "romantic" and "touching". However I was skeptical since I had also heard that this book detailed Shen Fu's relationship not only with his wife, Yun, but also concubines and courtesans - thus setting it far outside the scope of what is traditionally considered "romantic" by modern, Western standards. Yet, if one is willing to keep an open mind and look at Shen Fu's extra-marital relations (which are, in fact, treated very briefly) within the context of the time and culture during which he wrote, one can see that that author and his wife were very much in love and cared passionately for each other for more than twenty years. Fu's description of the airy joys and carefree pleasures they experienced together as husband and wife are sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone who's every been in love.

Yet, with great happiness Shen Fu also experienced great pain and numerous hardships. Considered a failure in both business and scholarship, he was never wealthy and he struggled to provide even a modest living for himself and his family. Indeed, Fu drifted from place to place, job to job, often relying on friends and relatives to provide him with money and shelter. Adding to the pressures of poverty was his wife's chronic illness, which eventually took her life. Shen Fu's description of his wife's death is truely heart-breaking, as he writes:

"Her spirit vanished in the mist and she began her long journey... When it happened there was a solitary lamp burning in the room.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By quaziheart on April 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
If one reads the introduction, this book is not meant to be read as a sequential narrative, instead it is a collection of memoirs and hence the word "records" in the title. Through this collection of records and memoirs, readers are welcomed to peer into segments of the author's bumpy life.

The records follow Shen Fu on his numerous failed attempts to find contentment in life: As an educated man, Shen Fu tried to gain a position through civil examinations but got nowhere, he tried his hand at being a painter but found that he had no talent, he made friends with people who eventually betrayed him, he got into debt and was disowned by his father, and the final blow came when he lost his child and beloved wife, Yun. In the end Shen Fu's decided to live a "floating Life" by giving up worldly matters to wander China.

Shen Fu is also a groundbreaking author. He is very descriptive of his environment, which is uncharacteristic of Chinese writers of his time. Through Shen Fu's accounts the reader can experience the long lost customs of ancient China, for example, lonely men with a bit of pocket money can visit brothel boats sitting "like aimless floating leaves" on the river.

Moreover, Shen Fu's accounts of his wife, Yun, were against conventions because he does not cease in describing her only as a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law according to Confucian ideology, but he portrays her as an intelligent and adventurous woman who was willing to dress up as a man to visit a temple (which forbids women) with him. To Shen Fu, Yun was his soul mate and she transcends his memoirs into a love story.
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