"Unique... Inspiring..." – BBC


'Got any change?' I asked the Chinese punk slouched against the station vending machine.

'No have change in China,' he spat back, turned and disappeared into the mass of humanity thronging Beijing's central railway terminus.

The meaning in the response was clear. There's only one sort of change in China. The sort you put in vending machines.

Beyond economic change, my punk friend was telling me, China remains fundamentally the country it was under Mao Zedong.

I'd suspected as much from time spent voyaging to the heart of the system. If China still feels the need to censor the news and fill the void with China self-glorifying puff pastry, the country still has some distance to travel before it can claim to have changed with real, basic change.

Thanks to my punk friend's vehement outburst, I now knew I was far from alone in thinking it. If the China man-in-the-street thought so too, it was clear that that's what had to be the core issue addressed in Limp Pigs and the Five-Ring Circus a no-holds-barred Chinese memoir-with-attitude documenting a lengthy term of servitude in the gearbox of China's prime propaganda machine.

Five years on from escaping the machine it's time to revisit the issue. Since that time, has China moved to loosen its stranglehold on the media, government information, the people? Or does the mirage of change still shimmer?

Limp Pigs 2013 – the original work with a substantial update chapter added – presents evidence suggesting the latter. Nothing gleaned from the 'changes' enacted since my 2008 flight from the parallel universe they call China gives any indication of Beijing having any intention of addressing what's been dubbed its deformed toddler syndrome.

China was and remains a child with legs growing at unequal rates. While one – the economic one – is developing at meteoric pace, the other – the political appendage – has all the growth capabilities of a prosthesis.

All of which leaves the People's Republic with something of a problem. If nothing is done to equalise the rates of growth, instability and eventual over-balance seem unavoidable.

Mark Newham, November 2013