Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Kung Flu?

Bill Burkett
2 min readMar 20, 2020


My nomination for the best and funniest name of the latest Asian born pestilence. I cannot believe people are calling this term racist. Wait. Sure I can. The world is nuts.

I read some woman either said or asked or suggested saying Chinese food is racist. Which reminded me of a Chinese friend of mine, attorney, wise-guy and urban cowboy who decided to get to know the enforcement types he represented for the state. So he went fishing with them, crashing through the brush, fighting mosquitoes, the whole bucolic experience. Mosquitoes bothering you, Jack, one inquired. He said yes — But I will have the last laugh. They will be hungry again in an hour.

As for “kung flu,” anyone who grew up watching Caine defend Chinese railroad workers against nasty Caucasians will get the reference. Those with a deeper interest will remember Shaolin Kung Fu, also called Wushu, is one of the oldest continuously practiced martial-arts philosophies. (Caine, “Grasshopper,” studied with the Shaolin monks, goes the back story for the old series.)

Deeper research will find implications of early unarmed combat associated with an ancient Indian warrior, Siddhattha Gotama, turned mendicant, philosopher and religious teacher. There are old tales that the religion he founded, when it came marching over the Himalayas to China, made remote converts like the Shaolin. What is the sound of one hand clapping? (a good question for Medium.) And what of the effectiveness of the “empty hand” in self-defense? Were both questions actually original with the man later called Buddha?

“Kung flu.” Making a play on words from an ancient and respected martial art for a nickname of the new pestilence is, from here, the kind of humor useful in grim times. (Once it was acknowledged the Chinese phrase: may you live in interesting times was actually a curse. Is it racist to identify the saying with the nation, and that it was actually a sly curse?)We are living in interesting times, and for some that is indeed a curse. “Gallows” humor is a human response to the imponderable wheel of fate.

When I was a boy my aunt taught me that passing a hand slowly beneath the warming lamp above a nest of new-hatched chicks resulted in a frantic stampede though they were too young to have ever experienced a chicken hawk above the yard. She said it was hard-wired in their inheritance.

Observing the news from all corners of human response to kung flu, I am reminded of those frantic biddies. And of Chicken Little, of course. The phrase Chinese fire drill comes to mind. But of course that’s probably considered racist too. (And the Chinese could well fire back, saying no, it resembles a Trumpian fire drill.)

Either is funny to me. And so is Kung Flu.



Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.