The Chinese idiom 諱疾忌醫, pronounced huì jí jì yī, refers to concealing an illness and avoiding treatment.
It is also used to describe someone who tries to cover up his or her mistakes and shortcomings in order to avoid criticism.
The idiom comes from a story about the legendary doctor of Chinese medicine Bian Que (扁鵲), who lived during the Zhou Dynasty.
Bian Que visited Duke Huan of the Qi State one day, and upon observing the duke, he diagnosed that the duke had a skin disease.
Bian Que advised the duke, “If you do not treat the disease, it will go deeper.” But the duke replied, “I have no disease.”
Several days later, Bian Que returned. Upon observing the duke again, he said, “Your disease has reached the blood. If it is not treated, I am afraid it will go deeper.”
However, the duke again responded, “I have no disease.”
A few days later, Bian Que visited Duke Huan for the third time. Seeing the duke, he said, “Your disease has spread to your gastrointestinal system. If not treated, it will worsen.”
Duke Huan still did not believe him.
Another few days passed and Bian Que again returned. However, this time he turned around and left as soon as he saw the duke.
Duke Huan sent an attendant to ask Bian Que the reason, and Bian Que replied: “When the disease was in the skin, it was curable by herbal cleansing and moxibustion heat treatment.
“When the disease was in the flesh, it was curable by acupuncture.
“When the disease spread to the gastrointestinal system, herbal decoctions could still treat it.
“However, the disease has now spread to the bone marrow and it is no longer within my ability to treat it.”
Several days later, Duke Huan felt pain from the disease and sent for Bian Que, but Bian Que had departed, and the duke soon died.
This story advises people to take preventive measures and to address issues early on, whether related to illness or any other problem, to ensure they are properly resolved. Otherwise, the problems may grow and spread until they become incurable.
The story also teaches people to promptly correct their mistakes and shortcomings. If left unchecked, their errors and faults may grow from small to large, from light to heavy, and the consequences could be disastrous.