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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 


By: Joe Hing Kwok Chu


According to the Western perception, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) mainly refers to acupuncture. In fact, acupuncture is only a small part of Chinese medicine.  The main part is clinical diagnostics and herbal medicine. Acupuncture was first introduced to the West when American president Richard Nixon visited China and was presented with a demonstration of acupuncture used as anesthesia in surgery. When acupuncture was first legalized in the state of California, the practice of Chinese herbal medicine was grouped together with it in order to save administration costs. Yet the fact is that acupuncturists are usually not trained in the practice of Chinese herbal medicine, which takes a longer time to master, and many herbal doctors are not trained in acupuncture .  In recent years, many acupuncture schools in Western countries have started to teach Chinese herb medicine.


General information for Chinese medicine practitioners

Formulae in English alphabet in this website are for your reference only. Use the Chinese writing for prescription to avoid mistakes and to avoid confusion in Chinese herb stores. If there is a discrepancy between the alphabet pinyin Chinese and the Chinese characters, use the Chinese characters. Weights expressed in this site are either in grams (g) or in the traditional Chinese measurements of qian and liang.  Qian=3.75 grams and liang=37.5 grams, as used by most overseas Chinese. (Most herb stores in mainland China, use 3 grams as one qian.)

Sometimes we use qian and sometimes we use g (grams) for our convenience in writing. Many old formulae published in mainland China had the weight converted into grams. Many overseas Chinese, especially those of the older generation, still use the old weight, even if the law of their residence countries requires them to use the official weight of those countries. The writer has sometimes noticed that  herbalists were confused when asked to fill prescriptions expressed in grams. In many instances, supervisors came to revise the weight into qian or liang for the workers who filled the prescriptions.

When writing prescriptions, it is a good practice to write the weight qian   or liang in printed form like these, unless you know that the person who is going to fill the prescriptions is familiar with your handwriting. A formula written in shorthand can be confusing for herbalists from mainland China if you use the symbols commonly used in Hong Kong or among overseas Chinese in other parts of the world. The herbalists from the mainland might read your shorthand (qian) as liang. (ten times as much). In some parts of mainland China qian is written in shorthand as  or as . Usually overseas Chinese and Chinese in Hong Kong write liang as . Errors like these have happened, but are rare because a responsible herbalist will see that the weight of the herbs is out of regular usage range, and will call the prescription writers to verify them. Also, it is a good practice as a further check to write down the amount of water to be used, and not just write down "boil with water" (as 水 煎 服 ). The herbalist who may have misread the weight of qian as liang (10 times of one qian), should understand that the amount of water indicated in the prescription did not correspond to the weight of the herbs to be prepared.  Most of the time, the editor uses the sentence 'boil with water' for convenience in writing; you have to write down the amount of water in a measurement easily understood by the patients (in c.c. or bowls) according to the weight and characteristics of the herbs indicated.

The weights listed are for your reference. They should be adjusted according to the individual diagnostics based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) method. Chinese medicine is individualized medicine. One formula does not fit everyone with the same illness.

Not only is the weight of herbs to be adjusted, but certain herbs are also to be added or subtracted according to zheng (syndromes) diagnostics.

General information for the public

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes diagnostics and pharmacology, and use of herbs should be tailored to the individual patient.  Folk medicine, on the other hand, is a compilation of formulae used by the general public to treat certain conditions without reference to a complete system of medicine.  In some publications, folk medicines are called "secret formulae."  In this website there are some samples of folk remedies listed under the names of specific conditions.

Herb Dictionary

Chinese Medical Classics


Samples of Formulae

Herb Injections

About the taste of Chinese herbs

Treatments and Samples of Formulae


    Dengue fever


    Diarrhea, chronic

    Ear infection, chronic

    Hepatitis B



    Menses, heavy bleeding

    Morning diarrhea, chronic

    Nose bleeding

    Periodontitis or pyorrhea and Gingivitis

    Prostate enlargement


    Urination difficulty due to prostate enlargement

See more listing of samples of herb treatment


Chinese and English utility books (useful in practice of Chinese medicine)

New Uses of Classical Formulae



Metric weight,  Chinese weight, and American weight conversion:

1 kilogram (kg) = 2.204 pounds (avoirdupois)

1 kilogram (kg) = 2 jin  (32 liang) new measurement

1 kilogram (kg) = 1.67 jin (26.72 liang) old measurement

1 pound (avoirdupois) = 453.721 grams

1 liang =10 qian (new) = 31.25 grams

1 liang =10 qian (old) = 37.5 grams  (37.429 grams), being used in Hong Kong and Taiwan and in many over sea Chinese communities.


香港與台湾用的司馬制 標識
  1司馬斤=16司馬兩=600克 (g)
  1司馬兩=10司馬錢=37.5克 (g)(37.429 克(g) )


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Last update: Sept 20, 2013; 9 a.m. LAH