Chinese rural boxoffice growth slows

Cinemas remain an urban luxury despite new construction

BEIJING -- Although China's boxoffice shot up more than 20% for a fifth year in a row in 2008, going to the movies remains, for the most part, an urban luxury, as government data on rural household spending shows.

According to recent Ministry of Agriculture statistics, rural Chinese households spent an average of just 139.3 yuan ($20.30) all of last year on entertainment such as books and films.

Each rural household spent an average 348 yuan ($50.90 dollars) on "cultural-related services" in 2008, of which 208.7 yuan ($30.50) was devoted to child education, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The money rural Chinese spent on personal entertainment in 2008 was just 2 yuan (29 cents) higher than what they spent in 2007, representing a massive slowdown in growth from 2006, when rural Chinese increased their annual entertainment spending by 25.6 yuan.

Ma Yichang, a farmer from Jiangzhuang village in Shandong province, told Xinhua that his primary entertainment was television and sometimes folk art performances. He did not buy a single book or watch a movie last year, he said.

China added about two movie screens per day last year, mostly in the modern urban multiplexes that anchor shopping malls in big cities along the country's wealthy east coast.

China now has roughly 4,000 screens, up from just 2,668 at the end of 2005, data from the State Administration of Radio Film and Television shows.