China's central budget will invest 800 million yuan (US$117 million) this year to improve cultural facilities in rural areas where some 800 million people live.
In addition to 200 million yuan allocated earlier this year, the investment, which was announced a week ago, will mainly be used to build cultural centers while improving old ones in townships and villages, an official with the Ministry of Culture said on Friday.
China has already had about 36,800 such centers by the end of 2006. More than 20,000 centers will be newly built before 2010, mainly in less developed central and western areas, said Zhang Xiaoping, director of the ministry's division for mass culture affairs.
Total investment could reach 4 billion yuan by 2010 according to the government's plan, he said, adding that last year saw 100 million yuan spent to start the project.
With the cultural centers next to their homes, villagers do not need to travel far to find a library, a cinema or a museum. They can enjoy folk dance or calligraphy performed by fellow villagers, or set up a handcraft workshop.
They can also enjoy online movies or read electronic books via computers, as many rural centers will be linked with a network called the National Cultural Information Sharing Project, Zhang said.
He said the investment plan was part of the nation's efforts to help rural people have better access to public cultural facilities, for a better quality of living.
Compared with their urban counterparts, residents in China's vast rural area often have much less choices in cultural life such as libraries, theaters and museums. Some even blame this as one of causes of a surge in gambling and superstitious activities.
Cultural centers should take the lead to organize colorful events for locals. But many had suffered serious challenges, mainly because of insufficient facilities and lack of funds, Vice Minister of Culture Zhou Heping was quoted as saying by Friday's People's Daily.
But the situation has been changed with a steady increase of investment since 2001, he said. During the 2000-2005 period, 480 million yuan was spent on some 3,000 county-level libraries and cultural centers.
The Communist Party of China last month announced a landmark plan to boost the overall development of rural areas, in which residents' right to enjoy a better health care, education and cultural life was highlighted.
Early this week, the Chinese government unveiled its 4 trillion yuan stimulus package to boost development against the backdrop of a global economic slowdown. Cultural and educational facilities in rural areas, including township and village cultural centers, again became one of top areas to receive huge investment.
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2008)