THE combination seems unlikely - mass mobilisation campaigns straight out of Mao Zedong, a pinch of old-fashioned propaganda, a dash of Western-style public relations and a touch of Hollywood. But Hollywood's expertise is what Beijing is relying on in trying to build a new image in its race for the 2000 Olympic Games. It is hard to exaggerate Beijing's obsession with staging the Olympics, a goal Chinese officials have had in mind since China rejoined the Olympic movement in 1984. Beijing and Sydney are the early favourites ahead of other contenders Berlin, Brasilia, Istanbul, Manchester and Milan. In order to win the Olympic bid, which would give China the chance to show off its economic development and inject new impetus into its modernisation drive, Chinese officials are trying to ensure nothing stands in their way, not least their penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. And that is where Tinseltown comes in. Sensing that Beijing - a name which still conjures up nightmare visions of tanks and gunfire, and byzantine political intrigue - has an image problem, Beijing Olympic officials last year turned to an American film company for help. Hollywood studio Miracle Pictures, producers of JFK and other hit movies, is making slick promotional films to win over the International Olympic Committee. And the studio has brought in a team of Western public relations advisers to help Beijing present its case. The task of creating a new image is daunting. ''What we have been told [about China in the West] is that it's something huge, monstrous and ugly,'' said one of the Western advisers. For all their experience in propaganda, Chinese officials know next to nothing about public relations. That was clear during the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. Among the numerous public relations faux pas, organisers plastered us with pictures of the mascot, Panpan the panda, shooting a rifle - an image with macabre overtones in the wake of the Beijing massacre a year earlier. The police presence and security arrangements had athletes complaining of a prison-like atmosphere. THE Western advisers have been showing officials a video about US President Mr Bill Clinton's campaign in a bid to counter negative publicity and come up with a winning campaign. The Chinese Government is even taking steps to reverse its negative image. It has granted early prison releases to student leader Mr Wang Dan and a number of other dissidents. Recognising the power of the Western media in shaping perceptions, the government has reportedly ordered the secret police to stop tailing foreign correspondents. It also hopes to bring in scores of journalists to report on the Shanghai East Asian Games in May - an opportunity to showcase the country's organisation skills. While memories of Tiananmen Square will not fade, the committee's strategy is to focus on the changes, particularly in economic development and reform. China is also trying to use politics to argue a Beijing Olympiad would suddenly bring a country with 22 per cent of the world's population out of isolation, making it almost impossible to turn back the tides of economic reform. But the transition from propaganda to public relations is not an easy one for Chinese officials, and at times they stumble badly. In presenting their bid book to journalists last month, officials were embarrassed to find a mis-translation stated, incorrectly, that the meeting of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, would be cancelled in the year 2000. And, it was evident old authoritarian habits die hard when one official said: ''Neither now nor in the future will there emerge in Beijing organisations opposing Beijing's bid.'' (One IOC requirement for an Olympic site is that local people support the bid). The organisers are much more at home with their Maoist heritage, of which there is plenty of evidence in Beijing. In preparation for an IOC inspection yesterday, thousands of schoolchildren were out cleaning the streets. Sheets of plastic are hiding unsightly slums and newspapers were cautioning against littering. Taxi drivers have been ordered to put ''Beijing 2000'' stickers on their rear windows. And so many Olympic slogans, billboards and banners have been put up the organising committee has lost count. But some public relations ploys have backfired. A Beijing newspaper reported ordinary Chinese were surprised to find heating had been cut to reduce coal burning and thus clean up the air for the IOC delegation, which, among other things, will be inspecting pollution control. Vice-mayor Mr Zhang Baifa ordered the heat be restored.