BEIJING China is to build a record number of cinemas this year in a burst of movie infrastructure development that is aimed at rivalling the “soft power” of Hollywood.

The state council, China's cabinet, has issued new guidelines for the industry that have helped film-makers secure bank loans and reach a wider audience.

Despite the widespread piracy of films the authorities are ramping up cinema construction to draw more audiences.

Industry analysts say the speed of growth - a reflection of a wider economic boom as much as state policy - is so fast that China could start to overtake the US in key benchmarks.

“I am forecasting the day when China will catch up with the US in box office takings. It may happen in my lifetime,” wrote Raymond Zhou, author of a book on the economics of Hollywood, in a recent Xinhua news agency article.

Such talk is reminiscent of Japan's economic heyday in the late 1980s, when Sony snapped up Columbia studios. China's ambitions, however, are more strategic. Last year the government reportedly injected GBP4bn into Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV, and the People's Daily newspaper in a move to strengthen the country's media voice. These organisations ramped up their English language content in a bid to counter what is seen as an overly strong advocacy of western values.

Xiang Yong, deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing University, sees the promotion of the domestic film industry in the same light.

“From a cultural perspective, the promotion of the movie industry is an important way to strengthen the soft power of our country,” Xiang said.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service

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