By Raymond Zhou
BEIJING, Aug. 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Last year when I was preparing for a new edition of my book Hollywood Politics and Economics, I not only updated the data, but made a major change in tone on Chinese cinema. The book was first published in 2005, when I did not have high hopes for China's film industry. Four years on, I am forecasting the day when China will catch up with the US in box-office takings.
It may happen in my lifetime, faster than we expect, in view of the rapid appreciation of the yuan against the US dollar.
In 2004, US box-office receipts totaled $9.5 billion, and China's takings were 1.5 billion yuan, which, at the conversion rate of that time, translated to 228 times more consumption on the part of the average American compared to the average Chinese person.
Five years later in 2009, the US recorded $10 billion in total receipts and China reported 6 billion yuan, but now the per-capita consumption of movies in the US is only 49 times that of China.
Yes, China still lags far behind, but in four years the gap has shrunk more than three quarters.
Under these circumstances, it is not inconceivable that China may buy up a Hollywood studio in the not-so-distant future. When that happens, it'll create more ripples than Geely buying Volvo.
But Hollywood is an asset whose value means different things to the United States and China. To the US, Hollywood is just a manufacturer of entertainment products, but to China it is a symbol of soft power. The US may not be willing to sell media properties to foreign buyers, but Hollywood studios have always had foreign owners.
Symbolic significance can go only so far, though.
A buyer cannot live on symbols indefinitely and despite the initial and inevitable media hoopla, a buyer will soon realize he or she has bought only the brand, and maybe a library of film rights.