zǐ zhī duó zhū 紫之夺朱
Purple Prevailing over Red
This refers to evil prevailing over good and falsehood being mistaken for truth in literature and art as well as in social life. It is red, not purple, that was viewed as a truly proper color by the ancient Chinese. Confucius, upset by the loss of judgment over good and evil, and by the fact that vulgar music was taking the place of refined classical music in the Spring and Autumn Period, called for dispelling confusion and putting things in the right order. With this in mind, Liu Xie of the Southern Dynasties criticized some writers for abandoning Confucian teachings and catering to vulgar tastes. Scholars of later generations used this notion to reaffirm Confucian criteria and norms for literary creation.
Confucius said, “I detest replacing red with purple and interfering refined classical music with the music of the State of Zheng. I loathe those who overthrow the state with their glib tongues.” (The Analects)
Rhetoric is like the skin of an essay; the writer’s thoughts and feelings are its marrow. A piece of elegant writing is like the embroidery on a ceremonial gown in ancient times – magnificent and dignified. Excessive focus on rhetoric and technique, however, is no different from an abnormal color taking the place of a truly proper one. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)