病魔 (bìngmó): disease monster

PutongWord of the Day

PutongWords Etc. is the next incarnation of #PutongWords, a daily Twitter column I wrote from late 2018 through 2019. Each day I chose a different common Mandarin Chinese word to pick apart and muse about within the constraints of 280 characters, uncovering the likes of wit, violence, tenderness, and wonder embedded within.

This newsletter expands beyond the short format so I can write about Chinese words and culture without worrying about fitting a single thought into less than one Tweet. There will be 3-5 PutongWord of the Day posts per week under a specific theme, and 1 entry per week discussing said theme. In between, I will dispatch pun-filled doodles and the occasional miscellaneous post on things such as Chinese internet slang, newly invented characters, naming conventions etc.

病魔 (bìngmó) refers to a disease that torments and lingers, one that seems to know your weaknesses, your fears, your pride, the things you hold most dear, and tear you apart and wear you down in the worst ways.

Diseases are part of nature, but they can seem like exquisite manifestations of dark magic in the ways in the specific, intimate ways they hurt people, humiliate them, and break them. Or, perhaps they can seem more like vengeful spirits, exacting revenge or simply out for blood, feeding on our dignity, our life-forces until nothing remains, and we die.

But there wouldn’t be monsters in this world without those who oppose it. A famous saying that originated from Daoism goes 道高一尺,魔高一丈 (dào gāo yī chǐ, mó gāo yī zhàng), and it refers to the eternal struggle of good vs. evil. Darkness is inherently powerful, but the good fight must be fought, and can be won.

— f