Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt is NPR's international correspondent based in Shanghai. He covers China, Japan, and the Koreas for NPR News. His reports have included visits to China's infamous black jails –- secret detention centers — as well as his own travails taking China's driver's test, which he failed three times.

Before moving to China, Langfitt was NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He reported from Sudan and covered the civil war in Somalia, where learned to run fast in Kevlar and interviewed imprisoned Somali pirates, who insisted they were just misunderstood fishermen. During the Arab spring, Langfitt covered the uprising and crushing of the reform movement in Bahrain.

Prior to Africa, Langfitt was a labor correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covered the 2008 financial crisis, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler and coal mine disasters in West Virginia.

Shanghai is Langfitt's second posting in China. Before coming to NPR, he spent five years as a correspondent in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun, covering a swath of Asia from East Timor to the Khyber Pass. During the opening days of the Afghan War, Langfitt reported from Pakistan and Kashmir.

In 2008, Langfitt covered the Beijing Olympics as a member of NPR's team, which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting. Langfitt's print and visual journalism have also been honored by the Overseas Press Association and the White House News Photographers Association.

Langfitt spent his early years in journalism stringing for the Philadelphia Inquirer and living in Hazard, Kentucky, where he covered the state's Appalachian coalfields for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Before becoming a reporter, Langfitt drove a taxi in Philadelphia and dug latrines in Mexico. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

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11:53am

Tue June 30, 2015
Parallels

Single Mom Leads Double Life On The Streets Of Shanghai

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 8:43 pm

People walk on the Bund, the riverfront area next to the financial district in Shanghai. Many foreigners have descended on Shanghai to make money on China's economic expansion. NPR's Frank Langfitt met one such woman as part of the free taxi rides he's been offering.
Aly Song Reuters/Landov

Editor's Note: NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt once drove a taxi as a summer job. He decided to do it again, this time offering free rides around Shanghai in exchange for stories about one of the world's most dynamic cities. Here's his latest installment.

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4:58am

Tue June 30, 2015
Parallels

Would You Buy A Used Car From A Man Named Beer Horse?

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 4:46 pm

NPR's Frank Langfitt has been offering free taxi rides around Shanghai to talk to ordinary Chinese. He drives a Camry around the city, but rented a van for a trip 500 miles outside the city earlier this year. He recently decided to buy a car, which can be a complicated process in China.
Yang Zhuo for NPR

I'd been renting a Toyota Camry to give free rides around the city for my series Streets of Shanghai, about the lives of ordinary Chinese. But the monthly rental fees were killing me, so I figured I could save money by buying a used car.

I went to a reputable used car dealership. The first hint that this would be different than shopping in the U.S. came when I met my salesman, a fresh college grad.

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5:02am

Tue June 23, 2015
Parallels

China's Island-Building Has Neighbors On Edge, But Tensions May Be Easing

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 9:27 am

Sun Jianguo (left), from the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy, chats with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in May during the ministerial luncheon at the 14th Asia Security Summit in Singapore. Each country has grown increasingly wary of the other's actions and interests in the South China Sea.
Roslan Rahman AFP/Getty Images

Chinese and American officials are deep into their annual meeting this week in Washington, hashing out the nations' complex relationship. In addition to many economic and strategic issues, they'll discuss China's remarkable island-building in the South China Sea.

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10:04am

Mon June 1, 2015
Parallels

A Rare, Spontaneous Democracy Debate In A Shanghai Taxi

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 10:46 pm

Wang, a young human rights lawyer, argues that Chinese people have to push the government to build a system of rule of law. She did not want her full face shown to protect her identity.
Frank Langfitt / NPR

Editor's Note: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been driving around Shanghai offering free rides as part of his "Streets of Shanghai" stories. But recently, he was a passenger in a taxi when something unusual happened.

Strangers rarely discuss politics in public in China, let alone the taboo topic, democracy. The Communist Party sees talk of political alternatives as a direct threat and has jailed people for promoting such ideas online.

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3:35am

Thu May 21, 2015
Asia

Why A Chinese Government Think Tank Attacked American Scholars

Originally published on Fri May 22, 2015 6:23 am

The Dzungar army surrenders to Manchu officers of the Qing Dynasty in 1759 in the Ili Valley, now part of China's Xinjiang region, in this painting made several years later by Chinese and Jesuit missionary artists.
Wikimedia Commons

Last month, a Chinese government think tank bashed history professors from Harvard, Georgetown and other leading American universities regarding things they wrote — at least 15 years ago — about events that occurred more than two centuries ago.

"This was a uniquely vitriolic attack," says Georgetown's Jim Millward. The article calls him as "arrogant," "overbearing" and an "imperialist," and dismisses Millward's and his colleagues' scholarship as "academically absurd."

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4:05pm

Mon May 11, 2015
Parallels

Shanghai Tower: A Crown For The City's Futuristic Skyline

Originally published on Tue May 12, 2015 10:40 am

The twisting Shanghai Tower (right) is the world's second-tallest building and opens soon.
Shen Zhonghai Gensler

Shanghai is one of the world's most vertical cities, a metropolis where 50-story buildings are routine. At night, the cityscape is so cinematic, it has been featured in both James Bond and Mission Impossible films.

This year, Shanghai Tower, the world's second-tallest building, will open and put an exclamation point on Shanghai's futuristic skyline. The structure, which measures 2,073 feet, is loaded with symbolism.

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2:51pm

Mon May 4, 2015
Parallels

People's Republic Of Uber: Making Friends, Chauffeuring People In China

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 3:38 pm

Joel Xu, 25, drives in Shanghai for People's Uber, a ride-sharing service. He makes about $4,000 a month – a good wage in Shanghai – and loves meeting new people he'd otherwise never encounter.
Frank Langfitt NPR

When Cici Xu isn't working as an accountant, she's driving around Shanghai picking up passengers for People's Uber, the American company's nonprofit ride-sharing service that operates in nine mainland Chinese cities.

Xu, 40, makes about $1,300 a month as a driver, but says she doesn't really do it for the money.

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5:06am

Fri April 24, 2015
The Two-Way

China's Latest Target: Funeral Strippers

Originally published on Fri April 24, 2015 5:32 am

A screenshot of a striptease act at a funeral in February in China's Hebei province.
Weibo

Looking for a way to give a departed loved one a send-off everyone will remember?

How about hiring strippers to perform at the funeral?

In some parts of rural China, this is not considered absurd, but a good idea.

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4:26am

Mon April 20, 2015
Parallels

So Long 'Cinderella,' Website Helps Chinese Find Better English Names

Originally published on Mon June 1, 2015 7:28 pm

The website bestenglishname.com uses the answers to questions about subjects such as music, sports and personal style to generate suitable English names.
Via bestenglishname.com

Cinderella. Billboard. Mo Money. Lady Gaga.

What do they all have in common?

They are a few of the unusual English names young Chinese have adopted over the years in hopes of mixing more easily with Westerners. Such offbeat names, though, sometimes have the opposite effect, generating puzzlement and the wrong kind of smiles.

Lindsay Jernigan, an American entrepreneur, has set up a new website, bestenglishname.com, to help Chinese choose more appropriate names.

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4:54pm

Wed April 8, 2015
Asia

Sidewalk Touts Trade Tips On Shanghai's Booming Bull Market

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 9:50 am

Money is pouring into the stock market, but most new investors only have a middle-school education, says Texas A&M University economist Gan Li.
Frank Langfitt NPR

On weekend afternoons, large crowds descend on a pair of street corners across from People's Square in downtown Shanghai to trade stock tips. Shen Yuxi has set up a homemade desk with two laptops, a big flat screen and offers insights like this:

"When a Communist Party chairman takes office, I buy stock in companies from his hometown," Shen tells a crowd of about 20 people that spills out over the sidewalk.

Recently, Shen has been buying up companies in Shaanxi, the home province of Xi Jinping, who serves as general secretary of China's Communist Party.

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1:03pm

Fri April 3, 2015
Parallels

For Chinese Migrant Workers, It Is Possible To Go Home Again

Originally published on Fri April 10, 2015 7:30 pm

Passengers go to the Nanchang railway station in eastern China in February 2014, at the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. In the past, it was often the only time of year that migrant workers were able to return home. Now, economic pressures on factories in coastal China have led to a reversal of a decades-long migration of workers from inland to the coast.
Zhou Ke Xinhua/Landov

Over the past couple of decades, a river of labor poured out of China's interior to its coasts as hundreds of millions of people traded farm for factory. Most improved their lives, but they paid for it in other ways, leaving behind families for a sometimes lonely existence.

These days, though, more and more factories are moving from the coast into China's countryside, creating an opportunity for more workers to come home — workers like Zhang Zhaojun, who left the mountains of Hubei province in central China in 2009.

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8:46am

Thu March 26, 2015
Asia

An NPR Reporter Chauffeurs A Chinese Couple 500 Miles To Their Rural Wedding

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 9:49 am

Frank Langfitt/NPR

Read this essay in Chinese.

That's me (with scarf) in what's becoming my natural element, driving Chinese people around Shanghai and beyond for a series called "Streets of Shanghai." Usually, I offer free rides around the city so I can meet different kinds of people and get a sense of real life in China, where things move so fast a generation can be measured in five years.

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5:25pm

Thu February 5, 2015
Goats and Soda

Why Is Nearsightedness Skyrocketing Among Chinese Youth?

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 3:24 pm

If you walk the streets of China today, you'll quickly notice that most young people wear glasses. In Shanghai, for instance, 86 percent of high school students suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness, according to the government's Xinhua News Agency.

Myopia has risen quickly in much of East Asia and Southeast Asia. And researchers are still trying to pin down exactly what's driving the epidemic.

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3:56am

Tue February 3, 2015
Parallels

The Oscar Nominees Are In; The Shanghai DVD Sellers Are Stocking Up

Originally published on Sun February 8, 2015 11:40 pm

Some DVD vendors in Shanghai still sell on the street, but a government crackdown forced most out of business or into storefronts.
Frank Langfitt NPR

The Academy Awards are coming this month, and if you're still trying to see all the Oscar-nominated films, it may be easier to find them in China than in the U.S.

A few weeks ago, the films flooded into the pirated-DVD store down the street from my apartment in Shanghai. It happens like clockwork every year.

I asked T.J. Green, an American executive who runs a small movie theater company here in China, to visit the store and explain what was happening.

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1:34pm

Wed January 28, 2015
Parallels

China Continues To Push The (Fake) Envelope

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 6:20 pm

Some fake Apple stores like this one in Kunming, in China's southwestern Yunnan province, were so authentic-looking that even some of their employees didn't know they were fake.
Stephen Shaver UPI/Landov

Nobody does fake like China. In 2011, a fake Apple store popped up in the southwestern city of Kunming. It looked so authentic, even some employees thought it was real.

This year, three farmers in central China set up a fake local government.

This month, police shut down a fake bank in the eastern city of Nanjing, where depositors reportedly lost nearly $33 million.

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