Shen Fu brings late 18th and early 19th century China to life. Reflections on a time of empire, when the barbarian west was developing a presence in southern China and pirates and brigands still terrorised the local population. Shen Fu is a self-described unsuccessful scholar, but still made a life in government and business, despite frequent extended bouts of unemployment. And what a life he lived and enjoyed. A failed scholar, but a wonderful poet: On love - "I went into our room and Yun rose to greet me. She held my hands without saying a word. Our souls became smoke and mist. I thought I heard something, but it was as if my body had ceased to exist"; On life - "There is dung in every house. The only question is whether one eats it" and "Burning incense in a quiet room is one of the refined pleasures of leisure"; The sublime - "As soon as he opened the temple gate we saw the face of the Buddha, its golden reflections mingling with the green shade. The steps of the hall and the stone foundations were covered with moss as delicate as embroidery" and "Their temple on Pu Mountain was covered by, indeed was hidden in, this Sea of Fragrant Snow. The plum flowers were in full bloom at the time and even our coughing and spitting were perfumed by them". Shen Fu lived a wonderful life to the full - finding true joy in the company of family and friends. The approach taken by Shen Fu in covering his life from different perspectives (the 'six records' - of which two are unfortunately lost) is a real pleasure to read, with the texture deepening through each new perspective.
Highly recommended for anyone planning to visit Suzhou or Hangzhou - this book resounds with the delights of the gardens, the scenery and a sense of history for this region of China. The Kindle version does not include the beautiful cover of the paperback, but it does include the fine drawings of scenery and maps which illustrate the story.