Six Records of a Life Adrift

ISBN-10: 1603841989

ISBN-13: 9781603841986

Edition: 2011

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his memoir of a life in the Qing dynasty reveals a sensitive and artistic man, who failed at the civil service examinations that were the gateway to official employment and had to settle for becoming an itinerant private secretary, dabbling unsuccessfully in making a living as an artist and a merchant.  Aided by his intelligent and devoted wife, Yun, Shen Fu struggles to maintain the illusion that he is a scholarly man of leisure.  Underlying  Shen Fu¿s account are vivid examples of domestic life, rites and rituals, the workings of government, and the role of the courtesan in nineteenth-century China. Graham Sander¿s translation¿the first in nearly 30 years¿is a model of accuracy and fluency, bringing the subtleties of the original to light in English for the first time.  His general introduction discusses themes in the work, the character of Shen Fu and Yun, Suzhou and the surrounding area, levels of society in the Qing, and the role of concubines.  Annotation, a chronology of events, a glossary and maps are also included.
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Book details

List price: $14.00
Copyright year: 2011
Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated
Publication date: 9/15/2011
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 176
Size: 5.25" wide x 8.25" long x 0.50" tall
Weight: 0.660
Language: English

As Lin Yutang has characterized it, Six Chapters of a Floating Life is "one of the tenderest accounts of wedded love . . . ever come across in literature." And it is also one of the most delightful examples of the genre of hsiao p'in ("little pieces") that flourished in the last years of the Ming and throughout the Ch'ing dynasties---a partly autobiographical little essay that mixes in observations and comments on the art of living, random sketches of scenic places visited, and impressionistic criticism of poems and paintings. Of the author Shen Fu we know little except what he tells us in the course of the story of his marriage to his cousin Yun---that he was born in November of 1763 near the Ts'ang-lang Pavilion in Soochow into a scholar's family. And we know from other sources that Shen at one time was secretary to a close friend of the brother-in-law of Kao E, the author or editor of the final chapters of Story of the Stone, or Dream of the Red Chamber (the earlier chapters were written by Ts'ao Chan). Although there were originally six chapters in Shen's account, we now have only four. These were discovered in 1877 in a secondhand bookshop and published by Yang Yinch'uan, whose brother-in-law remembered having seen the book in his childhood in Soochow. Three of the four extant chapters deal with Shen's betrothal and wedding, the couple's early married life of enjoyment together, their sorrows after Shen's mother became critical of her daughter-in-law, and of Yun's untimely death. The fourth chapter is about various scenic spots that Shen had visited. Apparently the two lost chapters dealt with a trip Shen made to the island of Formosa (Taiwan) and some general reflections on life. Ultimately, Shen's biography apart from what is revealed in the Six Chapters is unimportant, because we get such an intimate feel for his character from his incidental sketches of daily life. Much less studied and self-conscious than a structured autobiography, the hsiao p'in genre gives us more a feeling of having glimpsed into an open window of a neighboring house on various occasions, or having overheard someone absent-mindedly talking to himself or to a close friend.

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