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Wednesday, December 27, 2000, updated at 13:22(GMT+8)

Nationwide Fitness Campaign Keeps China Moving

In a Friday evening, Liu Mingshan was busy exercising in a gym of a fitness club. He came here tired and listless, but he was highly concentrative now and entirely perked up.

"I feel totally refreshed after a fitness course and I am more energetic the following days," said Liu, a senior employee in a local company in the Chinese capital.

"There is no space for any physical exercises in my company. I sit at my desk dealing with business all day long. It's really exhausting," said Liu, who visits the club at weekends, with his colleagues.

The club's annual memberships fee is 2,700 RMB yuan (US$300). And club members pay an extra sum of 15 yuan per hour for coaching if needed.

The 29-year-old also spends several hundred yuan a year for the use of tennis courts or swimming pool in other clubs. Liu thinks the costs is quite worthy. "This is a rewarding investment," he said.

Xia Guang, owner of the club in downtown city, knows why his business has become so prosperous. "People prefer a fitness club for lots of reasons with a good health as the top priority. Many residents regard sports as the best way to spend their leisure time," Xia said.

Beijing residents usually take such exercises as running and playing Taijiquan (hollow boxing) in the morning. With their living standards raised steadily, well-equipped indoor facilities are now in an increasing demand.

Xia plans to enlarge the scale of his club. "People are willing to spend more money for fitness," he added.

Spending some of their income just for fitness was something unbelievable for Chinese 20 to 30 years ago. But fitness has now become a regular part of many urban Chinese residents' consumption, with their income considerably increased during the past years.

The Dongdan Sports Center in Beijing, opened to the public in 1995, is expected to record a net profit of seven million yuan RMB (US$900,000) this year.

Another reason, is the government's constant efforts to improve people's health. A nationwide fitness program was launched in June, 1995 and in July this year, a monitoring center was established in Beijing aiming at more down-to-earth efforts for the program.

The campaign has not only brought about people's fitness awareness, but also greatly facilitated local residents for any access to physical exercises.

Governments at various levels in the country are urged to make sports facilities more accessible for residents and the facilities are not allowed by any individual or organization to encroach upon or divert to other uses.

As a result, a desire for better health has attracted more and more Chinese to a regular or even daily keep-fit schedule.

Sports fans flock to gyms, swimming pools, hiking trips or mountain climbing while elder people have taken up such outdoor practice as gateball and jogging.

There are about over 3,800 community-level sports organizations in China, with a total of 100,000 full-time or part-time coaches.

The organizations help sports fans to set up morning and evening exercise groups. Groups of people jogging, playing Taijiquan of folk- dancing are common scenes in the country's urban parks, river banks and open spaces in any apartment compounds.

People are also delighted to use fitness facilities called "Fitness Paths" built in parks and residential community centers, equipped with such apparatuses as parallel bars and balance beams and rope bridges, which are all modified for amateur practices.

More than 7,000 such "Fitness Paths" built so far around China contribute to pushing the national fitness campaign, with the apparatus donated by the Chinese Sports Lottery.

The lottery, established in 1994, is important for raising funds for sporting and recreation events and for maintaining sports facilities. While trying their luck, people they have also contributed more than 50 million yuan RMB (US$1.08 million) so far.

Thirty percent of the lottery's revenues are used for public projects including sports meets and mass sports programs. In Beijing for example, the lottery this year helped collect some 3.3 million yuan RMB (US$0.4 million), which helped build 63 health-fitness projects.

After the implementation of the first five-year plan of the Nationwide Fitness Campaign, the State Sports General Administration looked back to the program and "we came to a conclusion that it is a success," said Lin Jie, an official in charge of mass sports events in the national governing body.

"We have made considerable progress during the five years of the program, both improving the physical conditions of adults and establishing club for juniors," She said.

She added: "Our next step is to integrate the campaign with individual interests. We will supervise and standardize such movements and individuals will be all the more encouraged to devote themselves to various sports and fitness activities," she added.

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In a Friday evening, Liu Mingshan was busy exercising in a gym of a fitness club. He came here tired and listless, but he was highly concentrative now and entirely perked up.

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