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Follow Good Advice, as Naturally as a River Follows its Course

Origin of the idiom 從善如流

By Cindy Chan
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 21, 2012 Last Updated: December 5, 2012
Related articles: China » Culture
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Following good advice without hesitation or resistance is like a river that naturally follows its course. (KingWu/Photos.com)

Following good advice without hesitation or resistance is like a river that naturally follows its course. (KingWu/Photos.com)

“Follow good advice, as naturally as a river follows its course” (cóng shàn rú liú) is a Chinese idiom that advises one to readily accept good advice, without hesitation or resistance, just as flowing water naturally follows its course.

The idiom originates from a story from the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 B.C.) during China’s Zhou Dynasty.

Although they were only a minority, if their view is valid and good, then it should be followed.

— General Luan Shu

The Zheng Kingdom was a small state during the Spring and Autumn Period. To defend itself against the Chu Kingdom, it formed an alliance with the Jin Kingdom.

During the second year of the alliance, the Chu Kingdom sent troops to invade the Zheng Kingdom. The Jin sent troops to the rescue. The Chu army saw the strength of the Jin army and retreated without battle, knowing there was no way to win.

Several Jin officers suggested taking the opportunity to attack and occupy Chu territory. They asked General Luan Shu to order the action.

However, three senior officers advised against the order, saying, “The Chu army has already retreated. We have completed our mission and averted a crisis for the Zheng. We have lifted the Zheng out of danger and turned the situation around to one of peace and safety. Thus we should not attack the Chu.”

Recognizing this as reasonable advice, Luan Shu commanded the Jin army to return home.

Some of the Jin officers were displeased. “Why listen to the advice of only three, rather than the majority?” they asked.

Luan Shu replied, “Although they were only a minority, if their view is valid and good, then it should be followed.”

His willingness to accept sound advice from subordinates gained him a very good reputation. People then said that “Luan Shu follows good advice, as naturally as a river follows its course.”

Today the idiom is still used to explain the importance of listening to and acting on sound advice without reluctance.

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