Funding imbalances and shortfalls have increased inequality in access to public culture and entertainment facilities for the country's vast rural population, according to a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) blue paper released yesterday. The report on public cultural facilities is the first of its kind and says the number of cultural centres on the mainland decreased by nearly 4,000, or 10 per cent, between 2001 and last year to 38,362. The centres are the legacy of the Mao Zedong -era planned economy and have been popular venues for people, particularly residents in rural areas, to read and entertain themselves. But the current single-minded pursuit of economic development and rapid social transformation have eroded the sense of community on the mainland and led to a 12 per cent drop in the number of cultural facilities at the township level to 34,593 since 2001. Wang Pengcheng , principal of Shagou Township Middle School in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region , said the township had a cultural centre but there were few books to borrow, and apart from watching television, locals basically had no other form of entertainment. Mr Wang said that even the 3,000 books at his school library were donated from the public. Zhang Jiangang , lead author of the CASS report, said the investment in public culture and entertainment facilities accounted for a meagre 0.39 per cent of 13.38 billion yuan in overall public funding on the mainland in 2005, compared with the 0.52 per cent for 1985 and 0.49 per cent for 1995. Professor Zhang said the situation was worse in rural areas because 70 per cent of funding for public entertainment facilities was channelled to infrastructure in urban areas. For example, in Zhejiang province , 11 major cities had built grand theatres. 'Limited public resources have been used to build some trophy projects for officials to show off, and little is left for public cultural facilities,' he said. Professor Zhang said soaring operating costs had forced local authorities to encourage the private sector to run such facilities, further denying most of the public access to the centres.