In a further sign that China is speeding up reform of its film industry, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has announced that its film censorship process has been decentralised.

Under new rules, which came into effect December 1, filmmakers no longer need apply to the Beijing-based Film Bureau to have their scripts censored. Three pilot cities - Shanghai, Nanjing and Changchun - have been given "autonomous supervision rights" which means the local film bureau in each city has the power to vet scripts.

SARFT requires that all scripts - for both domestic projects and co-productions with overseas partners - undergo censorship before production begins.

According to Chinese newspaper the People's Daily, the new rules don't include "scripts about revolutionary history or special topics, government-sponsored scripts and movies with overseas investment."

SARFT also requires all completed films to be approved by the Film Censorship Committee before release. The new rules don't apply to this second layer of approval.

However, by decentralising the censorship process, SARFT may be encouraging a more liberal climate - authorities outside Beijing could prove to be more lenient than those in the capital.

China has lifted several restrictions in the past few years in an attempt to make its film industry more competitive. Private production companies can now obtain a licence that enables them to work independently of the state-owned studios. SARFT is also mulling a ratings system which would allow filmmakers to tackle more adventurous subject matter.