“Blessing in disguise” is a phrase used to indicate when events appeared to be bad, but they turned out to be beneficial somehow. The phrase usually indicated low or negative expectations about short-term events and a surprise about the long-term consequences of those events. The idea of finding good out of bad stretches has extended beyond Europe into other cultures across the world including China.
The phrase appears to have been born out of the religious belief that God or gods have the ability to bestow good things on humans. Older cultures believe that receiving blessings is about reaching a bargain with God and that insulting God will always lead to a bad thing. The term also indicates how divine powers have divine wisdom and that humans cannot always perceive the long-term ramifications of an event.
Hua Nan Zi first wrote the Chinese equivalent of “blessing in disguise” with his tale of a farmer called Sai Wong during the Han Dynasty. In the story, there are two negative events that eventually become good, much to the surprise of his fellow villagers. First, his old horse runs away, and then his son falls and breaks his leg. The villages are sympathetic both times, but are surprised by how calm Sai Wong is and how he believes there will be a “blessing in disguise” each time. First, his horse comes back with a beautiful mare and then there is a war and his son is saved from death on the battlefield by his injury.
The science-fiction (SF) comedy TV show in Britain “Red Dwarf” demonstrates how a person can learn from a setback and make it a “blessing in disguise.” In the episode entitled “Dimension Jump” in Series 4, the character Arnold Rimmer meets another version of himself from another dimension called Ace Rimmer. One is brilliantly successful and the other is an utter failure, while one was held back and had to repeat a year in school while the other carried on through the school system. Ace Rimmer, the successful charming one, is the version who was held back, while Arnold carried on through school and never learned the lessons Ace did by suffering bad fortune.
The term can be misused in order to make a point or to make publicity. Usually, “blessing in disguise” is used post-event to record how lucky something ultimately turned out to be. Pat Robertson, for example, used an earthquake in Haiti in 2010 to put forward the belief that Haiti had been cursed and the earthquake was a “blessing in disguise.” Such comments were called unfair and insensitive towards a community's suffering.