近朱者赤,近墨者黑 (jìn zhū zhě chì,jìn mò zhě hēi)

A Chinese proverb similar to the English saying "Bad company corrupts good character," and extremely similar to the Greek proverb "A man is known by the company he keeps."

The origin of this saying lies in the way the Chinese used to prepare ink for writing and painting. There were two basic colours available in the ancient days: red (赤; chì) and black (黑; hēi). Red ink was known in Chinese as 朱砂墨 (zhū shā mò), while black ink was simply called 墨 (mò). To prepare the ink, one had to grind an ink-stick in an ink container (about as big as an ash tray), taking care that one's long sleeves stayed out of the way. Grinding the ink-stick often meant that the ink would stain your fingers (or sleeves, if you were careless or inept). Therefore, another person could always tell which ink you were using by the colours on your hands.

This principle was applied in predicting the way a person's character would turn out by the kind of company he was keeping; or vice versa to tell a person's friends by his personality.

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