The red and the black: how to avoid the primrose path

Zhang Ciyun
It’s important to choose your friends wisely because they can influence your behavior.
Zhang Ciyun
The red and the black: how to avoid the primrose path
Li Chaoquan

Friends are very important for everyone, but it’s important to choose the right ones.

The Chinese seem to have understood this principle centuries ago.

There’s a story about the mother of Mencius (372-289 BC), a famous Confucian philosopher, who moved home three times to avoid bad influences on her son.

The tale led to a still oft-repeated phrase uttered by Fu Xuan (AD 217-278), a learned scholar and upright man of the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-317).

Deeply respected by the emperor, Fu was hired to tutor the court prince.

At that time, the prince was surrounded by many court officials, maids, eunuchs and servants — all eager to please the young royal and receive favors once he ascended to the throne.

Fu didn’t like these sycophants, believing their ambitions and low morals would adversely affect the mindset of the prince.

So one day during a tutoring session, Fu told the prince that if he wanted to be a good man and a good emperor, he needed to associate himself with people of excellent character.

Fu used the phrase jinzhuzhe chi, jinmozhe hei, which means “one who ventures near vermilion gets stained red, and one who hangs around ink gets stained black.”


jìn zhū zhě chì, jìn mò zhě hēi

Fu’s saying has become a common Chinese proverb, frequently cited to emphasize the fact that one’s friends can greatly influence one’s behavior and personality.

Expressions with a similar meaning in English include “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” and “he who lives with cripples walks with a limp.”

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