'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.
WARNING! This book contains cryptic chapter headings based on a theme… and one chopstick. Unravel the theme, translate the headings and win the second chopstick (see Cryptic Challenge section for details). A clue to the theme is contained in Chapter One.
The e-book version is now available through Amazon.com
(and affiliated Amazon sites)
The original 'Limp Pigs and the Five-Ring Circus' book (which occupied the NUMBER ONE position in Amazon's censorship and politics bestsellers section for several weeks – see 'About the Author' page) is available in both paperback and e-book formats through Amazon or any high street bookseller quoting ISBN 978-1-78003-049-4
"An inspiring work... Beijing's control over reporting of the attempted Jasmine Revolution in China serves as a footnote to this book."
– Shirong Chen, BBC China Editor
"A unique insight into how China's propaganda machine works."
– BBC Chinese Service
"A brutally honest and enjoyable book written with a great sense of humour... albeit a sad commentary on the totalitarian communist regime as it still is today."
"Unlike left and right East remains East No matter which way you're facing"
– Lao Tzu
Identify the theme linking the cryptic chapter headings, de-cryptify
all 17 headings and submit to the author to win recognition on the Limp Pigs honours board.
Every successful cryptologist will instantly be elected to lifetime membership of the Honorary Executive of Limp Pigs (HELP!)
Completed entries should be copied and sent as an email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org
During a thirty-year career as a print and broadcast journalist Mark Newham's coverage of international affairs and development issues has appeared in almost every quality British newspaper, in international news magazines and on the BBC.
Newham has also acted as a media consultant to the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union and to China's state-run news agency Xinhua.
He accepted the Xinhua posting for one reason and one reason only – to gain firsthand, inside knowledge of the rules governing China's media mind games… and to see how much both could be bent.
Limp Pigs is the product of that quest.