Ill­ness is of­ten seen as a dis­ease of dis­or­der in the Chi­nese lan­guage, re­quir­ing firm “treat­ment”是大禹建堤修渠;是孔子五常三纲;是刘邦秋毫无犯;是华佗救死扶伤。

The World of Chinese - - On The Character - - HUANG WEIJIA (黄伟嘉) AND LIU JUE (刘珏)

What do dis­ease, a flood­ing river, and a chaotic state have in com­mon? They all need to be treated, or 治 ( zh# ). The wa­ter rad­i­cal of the char­ac­ter sug­gests its root: the orig­i­nal mean­ing of 治 was to con­trol the flood­ing river, or 治水 ( zh#shu@).

To con­trol the Yel­low River in par­tic­u­lar was a toil­some task. A mix­ture of early his­tory and myth, the in­no­va­tive ap­proach to the Yel­low River by leg­endary tribal leader Yu the Great—

di­vert­ing the wa­ter in­stead of build­ing dams— were seen as a great ad­min­is­tra­tive strat­egy, mak­ing Yu one of the most vir­tu­ous lead­ers in pre­his­tory.

De­fend­ing against floods and pre­vent­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ter pro­vide po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy, not only for Yu the Great but for em­per­ors in the cen­turies to come. There­fore, it’s quite un­der­stand­able that 治 also means “to rule, to gov­ern” as in 治国 ( zh#gu5, gov­ern a coun­try) and 治军 ( zh#j$n, gov­ern the mil­i­tary).

To rule as a king or em­peror is 统治 ( t6ngzh#). One of the core Con­fu­cian be­liefs on state­craft is that gov­ern­ing the state starts with one­self, as in the say­ing from The Great Learn­ing: 修身齐家治国平天下( xi$sh8n q!ji` zh#gu5 p!ngti`nxi3) or “cul­ti­vate one­self, then put the fam­ily in or­der, then gov­ern the state rightly, and bring peace to the world.”

Sounds like too much work? Per­haps you take the more free-spir­ited Daoist view, which is 无为而治 ( w%w9i 9r zh#, gov­ern by do­ing noth­ing)—rule by non-in­ter­fer­ence. Un­for­tu­nately, only a few rulers in his­tory im­ple­mented this idea, and still fewer cor­rectly. Both views as­sume the gov­er­nance of state lies on in­di­vid­u­als, which is 人治 ( r9nzh#, gov­ern by peo­ple). As to the present day, 依法治国( y~ f2 zh#gu5, gov­ern by law), or 法治 ( f2zh#) for short— seems much more ef­fec­tive and is some­thing China is work­ing to­ward.

The Chi­nese equiv­a­lent of “pol­i­tics” is 政治( zh-ngzh#), a term cre­ated by the Ja­panese us­ing Chi­nese char­ac­ters dur­ing the Meji Restora­tion in the 1860s. The ne­ol­o­gism was quite apt, since both char­ac­ters have the mean­ing “to gov­ern state af­fairs,” and was bor­rowed back into Chi­nese.

To gov­ern is to bring or­der; there­fore, 治also means “sta­bil­ity, or­der, and peace.”a phrase peo­ple of­ten seen on posters and the news in China is 社会治安( sh-hu# zh#’`n), or “pub­lic se­cu­rity and or­der,” which of­ten in­volves re­tiree vol­un­teers with red arm­bands who mon­i­tor their neigh­bor­hood for sus­pi­cious peo­ple or ac­tiv­i­ties.

In gen­eral, 治理 ( zh#l@) refers to treat­ment. It can be used for pol­lu­tion, cor­rup­tion, nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, or poverty. In med­i­cal con­texts, 治病( zh#b#ng, to treat dis­ease), 治疗( zh#li1o, to treat), and 诊治 ( zh0nzh#, to di­ag­nose and treat) are the words used. For in­stance, 他的病治好了。( T` de b#ng zh# h2o le. He was cured of his sick­ness.) Mod­ern medicine has suc­cess­fully cured many dis­eases, or 治愈 ( zh#y&, to cure). But in the un­for­tu­nate cases where there is no cure, the dis­ease is called 不治之症( b% zh# zh~ zh-ng).

Some­times, this ill­ness can be a fig­u­ra­tive one. In the 1942 Yan’an Rec­ti­fi­ca­tion Move­ment, Mao Ze­dong coined the slo­gan惩前毖后,治病救人( ch9ng qi1n b# h7u, zh#b#ng ji&r9n). The first part means “to learn from the past mis­takes to avoid fu­ture ones,” an en­cour­age­ment of re­veal­ing and dis­cussing past mis­takes; the lat­ter part lit­er­ally means “to cure the sick­ness and save the pa­tient.” The slo­gan was used to em­pha­size the im­por­tance of ide­ol­ogy and thought re­form. To­day, the phrase is still of­ten used in state edi­to­ri­als pro­mot­ing moral­ity among Party mem­bers and con­demn­ing cor­rup­tion.

To bring or­der of­ten in­volves pun­ish­ment of wrong­do­ings, there­fore 治 also means “to pun­ish,” as in 惩治 ( ch9ngzh#, to mete out pun­ish­ment). An­other Con­fu­cian say­ing about fair pun­ish­ment and wise ret­ri­bu­tion goes: 以其人之道,还治其人之身。( Y@ q! r9n zh~ d3o, hu1n zh# q! r9n zh~ sh8n.) It can lit­er­ally be trans­lated to “take the way the oth­ers treat you, and re­turn the treat­ment to them,” or “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.”

No mat­ter if it’s dis­ease or a chaotic sit­u­a­tion, to merely re­duce the symp­toms with­out at­tack­ing the cause is called 治标 ( zh#bi`o, treat the symp­toms). To tackle a prob­lem from the root, one must 治本( zh#b0n, treat the essence).

In some cases, 治 takes on a more gen­eral mean­ing—“to do,” but with a more for­mal tone. For in­stance, in 治装 ( zh#zhu`ng, buy clothes), it means “to pur­chase”; in 治学( zh#xu9, pur­sue schol­arly work), it means “to pur­sue.”

From treat­ing rivers and cur­ing dis­ease to gov­ern­ing the state, 治 is a word that em­braces peace, health, and or­der.

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