Six Records of a Floating Life

Six Records of a Floating Life (Chinese: 浮生六記; pinyin: Fú Shēng Liù Jì) is an autobiography by Shen Fu (沈復, 1763–1825) who lived in Changzhou (now known as Suzhou) during the Qing Dynasty. The four chapters are "Wedded Bliss," "The Little Pleasures of Life," "Sorrow," "The Joys of Travel." Two further chapters are missing (or perhaps not completed): "Experience," and "The Way of Life."

Yang Yin, the brother-in-law of the prominent writer Wang Tao, found the incomplete manuscript of the work in a second hand book stall. He gave the four parts to Wang, who was in charge of the Shanghai paper, Shen Bao. Wang published the manuscript in letterpress in 1877 and it became an instant bestseller. The Fourth Record was written in 1808, so the book was believed to be finished after that. Based on the index, we can tell that the Fifth Record is about A History of Life at Chungshan (the experience in Tclaimed and the Sixth is about The Way of Living. Later, the Fifth and Sixth parts which were claimed to have been found in another book stall were declared fraudulent by scholars.

The phrase "Floating Life" comes from the preface to a poem by the Tang poet Li Bai: ...The floating life is but as a dream; how much longer can we enjoy our happiness? (浮生若夢,為歡幾何?)


The book is written in what translator Graham Sanders calls "the literary language of poetry, essays and official histories rather than in the more verbose vernacular language used for the popular lengthy novels and dramas of the Ming and Qing dynasties." This choice allowed Shen Fu, Sanders continues, to "slip readily into a poetic lyrical mode," though he is also able to vividly describe topics as diverse as "gardening, finance, social roles of women, tourism, literary criticism, prostitution, class relations, and family dynamics." [1]


The four chapters are:

  1. Wedded Bliss, the author mainly puts the focus on his wife Chen Yun. Chen Yun is not so beautiful, but she pursues beauty by nature. She takes painting and embroidering as necessary to composing poetry and regards the simple life as the ideal situation. Shen Fu treats her like a close friend who can share with his hobbies and feelings, but the idea is not recognized by the orthodox society.
  2. The Little Pleasures of Life gives a vivid description of the leisure time activities of Shen Fu: his joys of his childhood, his adult life cultivating flowers, and the experiences of composing poems with other scholars. He tends to be close to nature in childhood and takes delight in nature. While in the adulthood, he has very little time to focus on nature, and is often chained to worldly possessions. Many of the episodes are involved with discussions of aesthetic experiences, which are actually worthy of careful thinking.
  3. In Sorrow, Shen Fu points out that most of his life frustrations are out of his uprightness and his commitment to words. Though this chapter opens with the author’s own sorrow, actually its content deals with the bumpy life of Chen Yun which also grows out of her character. The content is full of the author’s endless love for his wife and resentment to the unfair fate.
  4. The Joys of Travel not only portrays beautiful scenic spots the author had visited but also records anecdotes, local customs and historical allusions. Shen Fu's view is different from others. He holds the belief that it is the gaining of experience that counts rather than having a common view and following what others said.[2]


Six Records of a Floating Life has also been performed on stage as an experiment by East meets West Mime. This performance is an experiment mixing together the elements of miming, dance, pop and theater. Ballerina Lindzay Chan plays the character of Chen Yun, Shen Fu’s wife, and Philip Fok plays Shen Fu.

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  1. Shen Fu, Six Records of a Life Adrift (Indianapolis: Hackett 2011). p. viii
  2. Archived December 31, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
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