The book is really Four Records of a Floating Life, the last two records do not survive. It is autobiography, but it is divided into different themes, and whilst each of these records is chronological they overlap one another. The author Fu Shen was a minor bureaucrat with a failed career.
The book is very much of its time and place. The necessity of having a concubine for purposes of social climbing (and of course sex), foot binding and so on is taken for granted. The Chinese apparently consider the work to be a great love story and this is fair. The love story is a love story between Fu Shen and his wife Chen Yun. The fact that they both accept concubinage should not hide the beauty of the description of their love and the genuine portrait of the realities of wedded love. Their story is a moving one.
The book also concerns travels and hardship and hobbies. Each of the chapters are divided by theme and to some degree by a mood with each theme - love, delight, sorrow, wonder. The book has a delicate feel to it which we might associate with Chinese writing, but it is only true of some of it. It is informed by poetry, the writing is wonderful.
Some people feel that Fu Shen is not that likeable. I found him likeable, but flawed. In many ways he is a small man lost in a big world and I found this charming, although he is certainly a very flawed individual.
I do not know if Fu Shen is really clever enough to put this work amongst the very greatest works of all time, or anything like that, but it is well worth reading.