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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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 Tue April 21, 2015 9:38 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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8:59am

Wed January 21, 2015
The Two-Way

Shanghai Fires 4 Officials Over Fatal New Year's Eve Stampede

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 2:57 am

On Jan. 1, people gathered at a makeshift memorial marking the site of a New Year's Eve stampede on the Bund in Shanghai, China. Three dozen people died, and dozens more were injured.
Kevin Frayer Getty Images

The Shanghai government has fired four local officials for failing to prevent a stampede that killed three dozen people on New Year's Eve. Those who lost their jobs include Shanghai's Huangpu district Communist Party chief, its director and its top two police officials.

Investigators say that as huge crowds packed the riverfront in the Huangpu district, district party Chief Zhou Wei and other officials were busy enjoying a banquet at an opulent Japanese restaurant nearby.

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5:12am

Thu January 15, 2015
Asia

American Film On A Tibetan Migrant Finds Unlikely Success — In China

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 10:16 am

Zanta now lives on the outskirts of Beijing.
Courtesy of Jocelyn Ford

An American filmmaker has made a documentary on Tibet. Those two elements alone might seem grounds for China's Communist Party to ban it, but instead the film — Nowhere to Call Home — quietly has been making the rounds in China and winning praise from local audiences.

The reason? The film is an even-handed, deeply personal story that steers clear of politics. Journalist Jocelyn Ford spent years documenting the life of Zanta, a Tibetan migrant who fled her poor, mountain village to build a life for herself and her son in Beijing.

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11:23am

Fri January 2, 2015
Parallels

Along Shanghai's River, Buddhist Tradition Meets Greedy Fishermen

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 6:49 pm

Buddhists pour fish into the river in Shanghai. Environmentalists say the ritual, while well-intentioned, can introduce invasive species. Many of the fish are quickly swooped up in nets by fishermen who position themselves nearby.
Julia Langfitt for NPR

China today is a whirlwind of competing trends: authoritarianism versus personal freedom; pollution versus environmentalism, and self-interest versus spirituality.

That last conflict plays out every other Sunday morning in Shanghai when hundreds of Buddhists pack the banks of the city's Huangpu River. Monks in saffron-colored robes lead believers in song in the shadow of some of the world's tallest skyscrapers.

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12:51pm

Wed December 24, 2014
Parallels

China's Fierce Anti-Corruption Crackdown: An Insider's View

Originally published on Tue December 30, 2014 10:03 am

China's President Xi Jinping, shown speaking in Bruges, Belgium, back in April, has made fighting corruption one of his top priorities. Many Chinese bureaucrats are angry, saying a loss of bribes has greatly reduced their incomes.
Yves Logghe AFP/Getty Images

A government job in China used to be a gravy train: easy hours, little scrutiny and — usually — a chance to make good money through perks and corruption. This year, though, the 1.4 million candidates who signed up to take China's civil service exam marked a drop of more than 100,000 from the previous year.

Most people think the reason is the government's fierce anti-corruption drive, which has taken a lot of the profit out of public service. Recently, a low-level Shanghai official vented to NPR about life under China's toughest crackdown in modern memory.

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