Even while the Beijing Olympics is still fresh in the world’s memory, China plans to build an ode to Bruce Lee, a name many worldwide movie fans identify with kung fu, and which many minds still associate with China.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) is set to air a 50-part prime time series on the kung fu star. “Lee wrote the word kung fu into English dictionaries around the world. He made people aware of China,” said CCTV official, Zhang Xiaohai at a news conference this week.

The Legend of Bruce Lee, according to producer Yu Shengli, is China’s first movie or tv series on the “chest-thumping” actor, whose character of “defending Chinese against oppressors” became a source of Chinese nationalistic pride around the world.

“Lee’s message of Chinese strength matches that of the Chinese government.”

Authorised by the Lee family, the series traces Lee’s life, from his teenage years in Hong Kong to his move to the US where his exploits as a martial arts instructor and kung fu movie roles made him a legend.

The announcement in China follows a news report in May 2007 quoting Wong Yiu-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Bruce Lee Club, announcing plans to build a theme park at Bruce Lee’s southern Chinese ancestral home, Foshan City in Shunde District, near Hong Kong.

The US$25 million, 1.8 million sq kilometers theme park, which among others plans to attract visitors with its mix of hotels, spas, casinos and an international conference center is based on its premise of combining Bruce Lee’s martial arts legacy with Shunde’s local culture.

Scheduled for completion by 2010, it will have an 18.8m high granite statue of Lee, a memorial hall, a martial arts academy and conference center, said Wong who attended the park’s foundation stone lying ceremony. “Shunde is Lee’s roots, his spirit is from here. When the memorial is finished, it will boost Shunde’s tourism and open it to the world. Lee’s brand and legacy will benefit Shunde socially and economically.”

Lee’s films started surfacing on video in China only in the 1980s, almost a decade after he died in 1973 at the age of 32. Until its emergence as an economic superpower, China has always been seen as a closed communist country.