CNKI free services during COVID-19 and OA long-term practice


Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), initiated in 1999 by Tsinghua University and Tsinghua Tongfang Co., Ltd., is both the largest institutional repository in China and a near-monopoly provider of for-pay academic databases with a higher profit margin than Elsevier or Wiley, among other services. With promotion and support from the government, CNKI keeps developing its track towards open access [1]. CNKI offers free access to millions of documents ranging from dissertations and academic articles to popular and party journals. The COAA, Chinese Open Access Aggregator, launched in 2019, makes available more than 10,000 open access journals, although foreign scholars may find it difficult to benefit from this due to the language. CNKI has played an important role in making works on COVID-19 freely available, as well as in expanding access to subscribers at home during lock-down.


CNKI stands for Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure, it was initiated by Tsinghua University and Tsinghua Tongfang Co., Ltd. and was founded in June 1999. According to Tongfang ’s annual report, the company officially opened the world ’s largest Chinese knowledge portal ‘CNKI ( database’ in 2004, informally known as ‘Zhiwang’. CNKI is currently China’s largest integrator of academic electronic resources, including more than 95% of officially published Chinese academic resources.

At the end of 2017, CNKI had more than 20,000 institutional users, more than 20 million individual registered users, full-text downloads amounted to 2 billion pages per year and more than 150,000 online users. The market share of CNKI in Chinese undergraduate colleges is 100%. [2]

As most students know, the best way to access databases outside school is VPN. However, in some inconvenient situations like during the COVID-19 lockdown time in China, you cannot use VPN in some places. Some major Chinese database vendors provided recent limited-time free services. According to the Central China Normal University Library announcement, during the COVID-19 epidemic period (the service period is tentatively from February 1 to March 3, 2020), CNKI provides 4 free services including CNKI database literature acquisition, research learning, and collaborative scientific research services (CNKI OKMS platform). (English translation by the author) At the same time, the school’s students are offered a new online entrance to access CNKI database.[3]

For Chinese readers, CNKI developed a special database online platform to release and promote the latest COVID-19 related study results. You can notice the platform name in red font on the homepage. The platform includes 2,256 journals in total, including 23 non-Chinese journals.[4]

Source: print screen from

At the same time, CNKI announced that there is free access given by the CNKI OKMS platform, helping uninterrupted research team communication during the special times. The “OKMS Huizhi” is an Office Software for Collaborative Research.

Ms. Dai also stresses that the “OKMS Huizhi” platform was launched in May 2019, and it is now free because of the COVID-19 epidemic situation so that everyone can research from home. Before June 1, the “OKMS Huizhi” platform will be open for free. (English translation by the author) [5]

Besides the limited free access due to the COVID-19 pandemic period, CNKI started to open a variety of continuous services, for example, full-text open access to some Chinese published literature.

The target of this service is the whole country of China, which started in November 2015. The types of documents served include academic journals, conference papers, doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, and newspapers.

The free service scope of 2020 is all documents published by CNKI in 2011 and before, including 40.89 million articles published in 11,402 journals from 1911 to 2011, accounting for about 59.8% of all documents. These include academic journals; culture, art, and other popular journals; party construction, political newspapers, and other party and government journals; higher education, vocational education, and other educational journals; economic information journals. From 2000-2011 CNKI published 188,000 doctoral dissertations, 1.51 million ancillary papers, 4.17 million conference papers, accounting for 45.6%, 38.1%, and 67.4% respectively, as well as, 18.15 million articles from more than 400 newspapers from 2001 to 2019, totaling 64,908 million articles. (English translation by the author) [6]

For Chinese authors, there is a free service that started in September 2019, aiming at the authors who have Chinese publications collected in CNKI database. On this online free author service platform, authors can download own published documents for free, manage academic achievements, obtain academic evaluation reports, track academic frontier developments, and achieve online journal submission.[7] For English readers, CNKI keeps updating its oversea website. At the time this blog post is written, the open-access (OA) online-first publishing of COVID-19 platform is officially online to serve [] which includes 2,288 China journals and 25 foreign journals.

Source: print screen from
Source: print screen from

What is more, CNKI Open Access Aggregator (COAA) is introduced to foreign scholars. CNKI Open Access Aggregator, COAA in short, was launched in 2019 and currently has more than 10,000 open access journals covering all fields of science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and humanities.

According to the COAA platform introduction on their webpage, it will continue to expand the coverage of open resources from now on, increase open access books, papers, conference papers, etc., to provide users with a large number of open access resources. The journal covers 100 countries and regions on five continents, covering 100 disciplines and covering 70 languages. (English translation by the author) [8] Unfortunately, the homepage and all the instructions are in Chinese. The language barrier could be a difficulty for non-Chinese scholars.

Besides all the effort CNKI has made to develop open-access (OA), there are many challenges it is facing. One survey of Chinese readers conducted by Wen revealed the fact that 94.5 percent of the respondents were ignorant of the existence of OA journals.[9] As we mentioned before, the market share of CNKI in Chinese undergraduate colleges is 100% which keeps CNKI the Chinese world of academic publishing in a monopolistic stranglehold. According to Wang Yiwei’s article on July 24, 2019, CNKI has posted an average annual profit margin of nearly 60%in the past decade which almost doubled the figure of Wiley [10].

At the end of 2018, the Taiyuan University of Technology, a university located in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, put a notice regarding the suspension of access to “CNKI” in 2019 on their school website[11] and the next day the school library published that the budget for the usage contract with CNKI was 588,000 yuan (about $85,500). [12]

The cancellation due to high fees happens around the world. For example, SUNY (State University of New York System) subscribed to approximately 250 titles in Elsevier instead of the whole database in 2020 and this approach will save SUNY institutions $7 million annually. [13]

CNKI, which has been developed with the strong support of the government, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and other departments, could assume more social responsibilities through open-access (OA) instead of taking advantage of its leading enterprises to gain more economic benefits. As the quick development of online services is being promoted by the national government during the COVID-19 pandemic period, it is believed that open-access (OA) is to become the future of academic library exchanges in China.


[1] Zhong, Jing, and Shuyong Jiang. 2016. “Institutional Repositories in Chinese Open Access Development: Status, Progress, and Challenges.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 42 (6): 739–44.

[2] 谭捷,张李义 & 饶丽君. (2010).中文学术期刊数据库的比较研究. 图书情报知识(04),4-13. doi:10.13366/j.dik.2010.04.015.

[3] Central China Normal University Library Announcement (2020). 疫情期间限时免费数据库使用攻略.

[4] CNKI 2.0 homepage.

[5] 本王整理(2020-02-04). 刚刚!中国知网道歉了,并对免费服务项目做出说明.

[6]《中国学术期刊(光盘版)》电子杂志社有限公司(2020-02-01). 关于中国知网免费服务项目的说明.

[7] open-access author service platform.

[8] COAA platform introduction (2019).

[9] Wen (2008) citation: as cited in Hu (2012).Hu, Dehau. 2012. “The Availability of Open Access Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences in China.” Journal of Information Science 38 (1): 64–75.

[10] Wang Yiwei(2020-06-24). Publish or Perish: How China’s Elsevier Made its Fortune.

[11] Zhang shumei (2018-12-28). Notice on suspending access to “CNKI series database” in 2019

[12] Tendering and Procurement Center (2018-12-29). 2019 Electronic Periodical Database Renewal Service Project Transaction Announcement

[13] Big Deal Cancellation Tracking.


Cite as: Shi, A. (2020). [ CNKI free services during COVID-19 and OA long-term practice ]. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. [].

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