The Chinese character 壞 (huài) means bad, evil or nasty, and is the opposite of good. It derives its origin from the symbol 敗 (bài) meaning rot or loss, in combination with the symbol 土 (tŭ) meaning soil. Soil and rot have associated meanings in Chinese tradition, because things that rot, mold, and fester eventually return to the soil.
According to Chinese mythology, the goddess Niu Wa created man from soil. As a Chinese idiom tells us, the dead will only find peace once they have returned to the soil.
褱 is the right half of the character, and consists of three ideograms, 十 shí, 四 sì, and 衣 yī . 四 refers to the number four, and it is also like the characer for ‘eye’, 目 mù, written horizontally. 十 stands for the number 10; and in traditional Chinese thought the universe was conceptualized as having ten directions. As noted in a lesson three and four of Mysterious Chinese Characters, the combination of 十 and 目 denotes the all-seeing eyes of the gods, and perfection. The third ideogram 衣 is the symbol for clothing
These three combined create 褱, which means that gods are able to look through peoples’ outer appearances. What they behold then is represented by the left side of 壞, which is 土, meaning soil.
Casting our minds back to the beginning, soil was also associated with rot or decay. The character 壞 thus gives a glimpse of traditional Chinese beliefs, that only gods can discern what is rotten, evil, or bad.
They thought that only beings on a higher plane were capable of differentiating between good and bad in man. Human beings, not on the same level as gods, were unable to look past the exterior to discern what people are really all about.