Free University-Level Online Courses on Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Difficulties for users not literate in Chinese

By Phil Rogers MVB, MRCVS,
1 Esker Lawns, Lucan, Dublin, Ireland


This note discusses briefly the difficulties that students, practitioners, or researchers not literate in Chinese must overcome to benefit from free Chinese Medicine Courses on the Internet, as summarised in Dr. Fanís very useful article (1).

This note concludes with a plea to the Ministry of Education of the Peopleís Republic of China to fund and drive an international project to develop specialist software to translate to high standards the wealth of useful knowledge that lies hidden within the Chinese language in its treasure-house of TCM.


In order to promote high-quality university-level education, the Ministry of Education of the Peopleís Republic of China has taken the highly significant initiative to make TCM courses available free online via Jing Pin Kecheng (JPKC). Further additions to the list of free online courses are planned.

Added in the past few years, free JPKC courses on TCM topics include:

Course Topic Chinese University Added in
Acupuncture Shanghai Univ of TCM 2004
Authentication of Chinese Medicines       Heilongjiang Univ of CM 2005
Chinese Traditional Medicine Beijing Univ of TCM 2004
Herbal Prescription Heilongjiang Univ of CM 2003
Synopsis of Prescriptions of the Golden Chamber Heilongjiang Univ of CM 2005
TCM (Experimental) Shanghai Univ of TCM 2005
TCM Basic Theory Liaoning Univ For TCM 2005
TCM Chemistry Heilongjiang Univ of CM 2004
TCM Diagnostics Beijing Univ of TCM 2003
TCM Gynaecology Guangzhou Univ of TCM 2005
TCM Paediatrics Nanjing Univ of TCM 2004
Wen-Bing (Febrile Diseases) Nanjing Univ of TCM 2003

For greater detail of JPKC Chinese Medicine Courses and a brief assessment of the value of each one, see the original full-text article by Dr. FAN Ka-Wai (1).

Difficulties and possible solutions for users not literate in Chinese

1. JPKC medical data are in Chinese only: Those data contain a mixture of modern and ancient Chinese terms. Due to the great difficulty in translating character-based languages, current Chinese-translation software is inaccurate.

Experts in information technology believe that accurate machine-translation of Chinese text is unlikely in the short-term. Therefore, the authoritative, free online TCM self-study materials provided by JPKC are useful only to those who can read Chinese text, or who can assess translations of high quality.

2. Current free software to translate Chinese is awful: "Google Translate" and "AltaVista Babelfish" offer free online translation of some European and Oriental languages. Their translations of alphabetic-based languages is reasonable to good. However, Google and AltaVista translation of Chinese text (|en or ) is awful as to be almost useless for medical studies by those who cannot read Chinese.

3. How can users not literate in Chinese access good translations of Chinese text?: If they have a sound pre-existing knowledge of acupuncture and TCM theory and terminology, users not literate in Chinese may obtain an initial translation of the Chinese text via "Google Translate".

They can copy that translation (which Google automatically intersperses with the original Chinese text) into commercial software, such as Wenlin ( ) or NJStar ( ) for further word-processing.

By comparing a Google translation against the original Chinese text and manually editing the Google translation accordingly, they can obtain a translation of reasonable accuracy. Because it is very slow and tedious This process requires great patience. For example, it can take several hours to check and transcribe manually within Wenlin an initial Google translation of one A4 page of Chinese text.

4. Conclusions
(a) Without good translation, JPKC data are nearly useless to readers who cannot read Chinese. This includes the tens of thousands of non-Chinese students, practitioners or researchers in acupuncture or TCM, and students, doctors, nurses and health-professionals in developing countries, who would study those data with great appreciation if they could.

(b) For now, DIY translation of JPKC data is for special needs only: Only the most patient non-Chinese-speaking students of TCM can hope to use the Chinese medical data provided free by JPKC because of the inadequacy of existing machine-translation technology, and the need spend an inordinate amount of time to transcribe the data processed through at least two different software packages (for example, "Google Translate" and Wenlin).

(c) Will China facilitate free translation of its online course material?: Is it possible that the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China may be persuaded to develop specialist software to translate to high standards the wealth of useful knowledge that lies hidden in its treasure-house of TCM? In this venture, is it possible for China to cooperate with western scholars of TCM (like Dr. Nigel Wiseman) and with western publishers (like Paradigm Press) that specialise in translating high-quality TCM textbooks?

It would be an enormous gift to humanity if China were to fund and drive such a worthwhile project. Free availability of well-translated high quality courses in TCM would be a magnificent gift, akin to that of the American Government, who funded the development of PubMed Central and Pubmed Medline as free sources of western medical information.

Acknowledgement: I thank Dr. Ka-Wai FAN, City University of Hong Kong and author of the article below, for comments and criticism during the drafting of this note.


(1) FAN Ka-Wai (2007) Chinese Medicine Courses on the Internet. J of Alt & Comp Med 13 (7), 777–780. © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2007.7002; "cikwfan" @ "" Chinese Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong, Tat Chi Avenue, Kowloon Tang, Kowloon, Hong Kong;