The first appearances of Chinese writing date back to around 1700 B.C. during the Shang Era. These signs were oracular inscriptions on bones: 甲骨文 jiǎ gǔ wén*. The writing was not fixed. To designate the same thing, during a period that lasted a millennium, one could have about twenty spellings, some very different from each other. Knowing the origin, rather the origins of the characters, makes it easier to navigate when one begins to have a good knowledge; indeed the various representations gave various connotations; some meanings have remained. They explain the various meanings that a character can have. It is therefore essential not to omit this step. Apart from the basic pictograms, such as sun, moon, man, during my years of learning Chinese, I have not seen a teacher explain the origins of characters. Too bad!
To illustrate my point, I use the character 艮 seen here. The ancient spellings gave it three main meanings: 1. hard, obstinate (the modern meaning) 2. A man looking behind him. 3. The mountain, a trigram of the Yijing.
Ancient graphics from 痕 :
痕, hén is composed of the key to the disease 疒 (seen here) and 艮. 痕 means scar. What is a scar? It is what remains after an accident, an illness and an operation; when we look back, we see the past, the scar is the “fruit” of the past. It is the idea of looking back. 艮, nowadays, no longer has the sense of looking back. Only the knowledge of the old meaning makes it possible to make the connection.
*The Californian company Oracle is called 甲骨文 in Chinese.
Yesterday, we saw that the word disease 疾 is composed of the disease radical 疒 and the arrow 矢. Let’s stay today on the arrow; it is interesting to see that it is part of the character meaning to heal, doctor.
In its traditional form 醫 and simplified form, 医 yī contains the arrow. Indeed, the evil was launched by evil spirits, so it had to be removed and sent back. Ancient writing on the right:
醫 consists of the arrow in his quiver in the upper left corner, which is beaten and pulled by one hand to the right. Underneath, alcohol in a jar can sterilize the wound. The simplified form has kept only the quiver and the arrow: 医 醫生/ 醫生 yī shēng means doctor.
Traditional character on the left, simplified on the right :
Another word with the radical 疒 disease is of great interest: 疾 jí, which also means disease. It is composed of the radical of the disease and the arrow character 疒+ 矢 shǐ.
Man or bed
For the formation of 疾, opinions differ. Some say that the original character was formed by a man hit by an arrow, see the first two spellings of the image from the top.
Later in the Spring and Autumn period -771 to 481/453 BC-, the man would have left his place to the radical of the disease, which in its original form indicated a bed, third image; the arrow would have remained on the right. Others think that there was never part of the man on the left. At that time, there were many wars and arrow wounds, as well. It was considered that the disease struck man like an arrow, and when it spread, it gave fever, hence the character 病 (bìng) seen recently with a part inside reminiscent of a stove.
病 and 疾
What is the difference between 病 and 疾? Cui Yujiang, a Chinese doctor, explains that 疾 is less severe than 病. He takes the example of hypertension. Hypertension can be the consequence of a bad lifestyle, stress, fatigue. At this point, we can talk about 疾. If the harmful factors are not eliminated and do not adopt a better lifestyle, we do not treat the root of the problem, then hypertension will worsen, and we will have 病. To summarize, 疾 corresponds to a first stage with symptoms, but if the necessary is not done, the aggravation leads to the second stage, the disease that sets in with 病.
After analyzing the composition of the character 病 disease here, let’s look at the key 疒 associated with other characters. With some basic characters, we can understand some other less frequent characters :
疒 ：+ complete 全 = cure 痊 quán. Healing is the full recovery of health.
+ wind 风 = crazy 疯 fēng. A madman has his brain bothered by the wind?
+ nail 丁= boil 疔 dīng. A boil is like a pimple or a nail that bites.
+ mountain 山 = hernia 疝 shàn. A hernia is a bulge, a mountain can be seen as a swelling on the earth.
+ understand 了 = care 疗 liáo. When we understand the disease, we can cure it.
One should never be satisfied with the explanations official（see yesterday’s article on 病). While searching in various books, I found an interesting comment on this character, which allows us to better understand its logic. The right part 丙 no longer only has the phonetic function but makes sense. Indeed, the first representation evoked a kitchen stove; underneath, we make the fire, above we put a saucepan: 丙
This is why this part was found in characters related to the cooking of food. Its spelling sometimes was like that of 内, nèi, character. To differentiate them, the character has been slightly modified and it is this new form that has come to us: 丙. Besides the idea of the man lying on the bed seen yesterday with the right part 疒, 丙 no longer has only a phonetic function but brings the notion of warmth and, therefore, fever and consequently, illness.
I was asked for an idea to remember the word virus, 病毒, bìng dú. Let’s start with 病, disease. Originally 病 was only written with the right-hand side 疒, which meant illness. The first spelling in the center of the picture below, had the idea of a man, sweating on a bed
Then , we added the character 丙 bǐng, which has only a phonetic function, right spelling.