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HUMA 1400 Chapter Notes - Chapter all: Chen Yun, Floating Life, Qing Dynasty

Course Code
HUMA 1400
Gordon Anderson

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Six Records of a Floating Life
- an autobiography by Shen Fu (1763-1825) who lived during the Qing
- he writes an autobiography of his life, everything from the love
affair with his wife to the trials and tribulations that he experienced
throughout his time
- the four chapters are “Wedded Bliss”, “The Little Pleasure of Life”,
“Sorrow”, “The Joys of Travel”
- two further chapters are missing (or perhaps not completed):
“Experience” and “The Way of Life”
- 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?” (浮浮浮浮浮浮浮浮浮?)
- Shen Fu’s autobiography did not progress in chronological order; rather
he organized specific events in a thematic format
- often cited as one of the most revealing documents to outline private life
in the Qing dynasty, even here the book poses a challenge as Shen Fu and
his wife (and cousin) Chen Yun are both deeply idiosyncratic,
unrepresentative of the times, and would have been looked upon almost
as outcasts
The first chapter: The Joys of the Wedding Chamber
- mainly puts the focus on his wife Chen Yu:
- 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
The second chapter: The Pleasure of Leisure
- gives details of the couple’s daily life; it tells how they achieved
beautiful effects in their home for not much money and about the
ingenious entertainments they devised for each other and their friends
- 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
- “With nothing to do in the long summer, we held examination
parties. There would be eight people at each party . . . . We would
draw lots and the winner would become the examination master . . . .
Everyone else became an examination candidate . . . . The
examination master would announce two lines of poetry, one of five

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characters and one of seven characters, and the candidates would then
have the time it took a stick of incense to burn in which to write lines
rhyming with them. They could walk or stand while thinking, but no
one was allowed to talk or exchange ideas.
- 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
The third chapter: The Sorrows of Misfortune
- Shen Fu points out that most of his life frustrations are out of his
uprightness and his commitment to words
- its content deals with the bumpy life of Chen Yun which also grows out
of her character
- the content is full of the authors endless love for his wife and
resentment to the unfair fate
- relates the underside of the beauty described in the first two sections,
revealing how the couple became alienated from Shen Fu’s family and
went ever more deeply into debt, while Yun’s health became
progressively worse.
- In this section we first hear of the existence of their two children,
when Shen Fu describes the wrenching parting from them that
ensued when they decided to stay with a friend in the country for
the sake of Yun’s health.
- It also includes the tragic scene of Yun’s death at age 40, but it
ends with Shen Fu’s accepting from a friend the gift of a
concubine, whom he describes as “a young woman who renewed in me
the spring dreams of life.”
- as he was trying to live the life of an administrator on the pay of a
secretary, he was constantly borrowing money and getting behind on his
The forth chapter: The Delights of Roaming Afar
- portrays beautiful scenic spots the author had visited but also records
anecdotes, local customs and historical allusions
- travelogue, evoking the beauties of temples, gardens, and landscapes all
over eastern China that Shen Fu visited in the course of his work as a
secretary for government officials, and showing something of his
relationships with friends and courtesans.
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