Disease is a lot of things, but not evil

病毒, 病魔, 病根, 病句: bad, broken things?

My previous set of words are: 病毒、病魔、病根、病句. Four words that contain 病 (bìng), the character for disease, which features its namesake 疒 (病字头) radical. Characters with the 疒 radical tends to be related to some aspect of disease. 

病毒 (bìngdú) “disease poison” refers to virus

病魔 (bìngmó) “disease monster” refers to a disease that torments and lingers

病根 (bìnggēn) “disease root” refers to the root cause of a problem or illness

病句 (bìngjù) “sick sentence” refers to a sentence that is technically wrong

My reason for choosing 病 (bìng) as a theme should be fairly obvious, it is a topic on everyone’s mind as the 2019-nCov situation continues to develop in China. Few things could make everyone obsessed with their own mortality like a new, extremely contagious virus. “Am I safe?” We all ask, as uncertainty press in from all around.

The scary thing about diseases is the malicious nature we perceive in it. As the ostensible victims, we feel like diseases exist to destroy us, that they devotes their entire existence and all of their resources to breaching our defenses, incapacitating our weapons, and claiming our lives. Disease is every superhero movie villain bent on bringing about apocalypse. 病魔 (bìngmó) might as well be a real demon from hell.

This is why disease is used as a metaphor in words that refer to something that is wrong or broken, as seen with 病根 (bìnggēn) and 病句 (bìngjù). These are things that obstruct what is right, and disrupt what is normal.

It may feel like a stretch for me to make this jump, but I see a bit of China’s culture of ableism reflected in the way diseased versus healthy exists as a kind of binary that divides what is bad from what is good. This is a world-wide problem, but in China in particular, people generally have so little empathy and support to give to those who are ill, as most are far more concerned about not becoming sick themselves.

Being sick isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s made much worse when it is a stigmatized existence, when society shuns your needs and rejects you. 

This is playing out in a particularly terrible way now, as Chinese people are turning on those who are from Hubei and especially from Wuhan. People who have done nothing wrong are being treated as if they are toxic waste simply for potentially being contracted with the new coronavirus, getting chased out of hotels, barricaded inside their own homes, reported on by their neighbors.

It is painful to see so many people allow their fear of disease turn their hearts to stone. 病人 (bìngrén) “disease person” is a patient, a person with a disease, we must not see them as a “mistake person”.

— f