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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4:40am

Mon September 1, 2014
Parallels

Why Did Crowd Flee Shanghai Subway After Foreigner Fainted?

Originally published on Tue September 2, 2014 8:59 am

A still from the surveillance camera footage shows the fainting man (top left and bottom right) lying alone in a subway car, as the few remaining occupants hurry away.
YouTube

One Saturday night this summer, a foreigner fainted and fell to the floor of a Shanghai subway car.

The passengers around him scattered. Not a single person tried to help.

When the train arrived at the next station, hundreds rushed out, nearly trampling each other.

The incident was captured on closed-circuit cameras. Tens of millions in China have now seen the images, which have rekindled a long-running debate among Chinese about their national character as well as trust and fear in modern society.

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1:14pm

Mon August 25, 2014
Parallels

Despite Crackdowns, China's President Rides A Wave Of Popularity

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 5:53 pm

China's President Xi Jinping has launched a number of crackdowns since coming to power, like suppressing Internet speech. But his anti-corruption drive has made him widely popular among ordinary Chinese.
Jorge Silva Reuters/Landov

Police shut down the Beijing Independent Film Festival over the weekend, detaining organizers and running off participants.

It's just the latest crackdown under China's President Xi Jinping. Since Xi took over last year, his administration has suppressed Internet speech, hammered the news media with even more censorship, and jailed people who have called for a system of checks and balances.

So, why do so many ordinary Chinese like the guy?

One big reason is his sustained attack on endemic corruption, perhaps the single greatest source of anger for most Chinese.

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3:28am

Sat August 23, 2014
Parallels

China's Pollution Crisis Inspires An Unsettling Art Exhibit

Originally published on Sat August 23, 2014 9:48 am

This fishing boat draped with sick animals is the signature piece of The Ninth Wave, an exhibit by artist Cai Guo-Qiang that opened at Shanghai's Power Station of Art this month.
Frank Langfitt NPR

When 16,000 dead pigs floated down a river in Shanghai last year, it inspired a lot of questions about China's environmental conditions and a lot of disgust.

Now, those pigs have helped inspire an arresting exhibit at Shanghai's contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.

The solo show, called The Ninth Wave, opened this month and features the work of a top, Chinese contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang. His installations are grand, provocative and unsettling.

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1:32am

Fri August 8, 2014
Parallels

What Happens When A Beijing Man Invites Women Into His Lamborghini?

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 10:19 am

A Lamborghini sports car at the 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in April. A young Chinese man recently asked women on the street if they wanted to take a ride with him in his Lamborghini, and filmed the encounters.
Lintao Zhang Getty Images

Earlier this summer, a man drove around one of Beijing's nightlife districts trolling for women in an $800,000 Lamborghini convertible. At one point, according to hidden-camera video, he pulled up to a woman wearing a black skirt.

"Beautiful woman," he said, "are you alone? Is it convenient to go eat something together?"

"OK," answered the woman, who promptly climbed in, no questions asked.

"You got in my car. Aren't you afraid I'm a bad guy?" the driver said.

"You ought to be a good person," the woman answered.

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3:28am

Thu July 10, 2014
Asia

China's Booming Real Estate Market Finally Begins To Slide

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 9:38 am

Villas in a luxury compound in Wuxi, in China's eastern Jiangsu province, sit empty after a year while more apartment blocks rise in the distance.
Frank Langfitt NPR

After years of stunning growth, China's go-go real estate market is now in retreat.

Prices fell last month in 79 out of 100 cities, according to the China Real Estate Index run by SouFun Holdings, a real estate website. Land sales dropped nearly 30 percent this spring from a year earlier.

Real estate has been one of the engines driving the world's second-largest economy, which is why economists in China and around the world are watching the market closely these days.

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1:33am

Wed June 25, 2014
Asia

Beijing: From Hardship Post To Plum Assignment And Back Again

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 7:48 am

A woman wearing face protection walks across a street during a hazy day in Beijing on March 27. Worsening air pollution is fueling a slow exodus of expatriates from the Chinese capital.
Petar Kujundzic Reuters/Landov

As Beijing's notorious air pollution continues to take a toll on people's health, it's also making it much harder for foreign firms to attract staff there these days. Some companies are now offering more money, more vacation and shorter stints to lure people to China's capital. What was once a plum assignment for expatriates is increasingly seen as a hardship post.

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4:16am

Mon June 16, 2014
Parallels

A Chinese Chemical Company And A 'Bath Salts' Epidemic

Originally published on Mon June 16, 2014 8:16 am

An empty lab used by China Enriching Chemistry, which was accused of shipping illegal drugs to the U.S. Eric Chang, the company's director, is currently in jail in China, where he was charged with producing ecstasy.
Frank Langfitt NPR

There were times a few years back when the emergency room at SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse looked like a scene from a zombie movie. Dr. Ross Sullivan, a physician there, recalls one afternoon when staff wheeled in a man with dilated pupils who was covered in sweat.

"The patient was screaming obscenities, and anybody he would pass, he was threatening and saying he was going to kill them," Sullivan recalls.

Police suspected the patient had taken "bath salts," the notorious synthetic stimulants that were ravaging scores of American communities at the time.

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1:26am

Wed June 4, 2014
Parallels

As Myanmar Modernizes, Architectural Gems Are Endangered

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 9:08 am

At the center of Yangon, the city's colonial heritage, Buddhist faith and emerging modern face are visible in a single block.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Decades of socialism and military rule kept Myanmar — or Burma, as it was known — poor and isolated.

There was one upside, though. The economy was so lousy, there was no drive to demolish the big British colonial buildings in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, and replace them with the glass and steel towers that now define much of the skylines in East Asia.

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4:19am

Fri May 30, 2014
Asia

Terror Attacks In China Take An Alarming Turn

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 5:39 pm

Smoke rises from Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 28, when three Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, drove a jeep into a crowd there, killing two tourists. The people inside the car died as well, after they set their vehicle on fire.
STR Reuters/Landov

China has suffered small-scale terror attacks in the past that often targeted local government in out-of-the-way cities. In the past year, though, the attacks have taken an alarming turn.

Ethnic militants have gone after civilians outside their homeland and employed a relatively new tactic: suicide.

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11:30am

Thu May 29, 2014
Parallels

U.S. Teacher: I Did 7 Months Of Forced Labor In A Chinese Jail

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 4:28 am

Foster worked as a sociology professor at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in southern China for a total of five years before he was charged with theft and sent to jail.
Courtesy of Stuart Foster

Prisoner 1741 spent more than seven months inside a jail in southern China, assembling Christmas lights for export to America. Work days stretched up to 10 hours and conditions were tough, he says. One boss used strands of Christmas lights to whip workers and drive production.

Stories about forced labor have trickled out of China over the years, but what makes Prisoner 1741's so remarkable is that he isn't Chinese. He's American. In fact, he's a middle-aged, American sociology professor from South Carolina.

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4:09am

Thu May 29, 2014
Asia

Obama Urges China To Be Constrained Within International Rules

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 9:11 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

China came up yesterday when we interviewed President Obama. The president recently visited neighbors of China, including U.S. allies. The Chinese have confronted several of their neighbors in disputes over territory, which raised a question for the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

INSKEEP: Does the United States have an interest beyond its specific alliances in preventing China from dominating East Asia and the waters around East Asia, where China's been making some aggressive moves?

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8:20am

Tue May 27, 2014
Parallels

With A Heavy Hand, Chinese Authorities Crack Down On Mourners

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 2:31 pm

Chinese mourners placed flowers and lit candles at the scene of an attack last week that killed 39 people in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi. When people used social media to call for a protest, authorities tried to break up the gathering.
Frank Langfitt NPR

When people turn out to mourn the loss of loved ones, local authorities in most places treat them with respect. Not in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi last week, where 39 people were killed in a terrorist attack the government attributed to Uighers, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

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4:54am

Fri May 23, 2014
Asia

Day After Bombing, Chinese City Very Tense

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 11:45 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Men driving SUVs plowed into a crowded vegetable market in China yesterday and threw explosive devices out of their vehicles. At least 31 people were killed and more than 90 injured. The attack took place in Urumqi, which is the capital of China's northwest region. It has a heavy concentration of Muslims. It is the second major attack in that city in less than a month. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Urumqi and is on the line with us right now. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

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3:08am

Wed May 21, 2014
Asia

Russia's Putin Goes To Shanghai For Talks With Jinping

Originally published on Wed May 21, 2014 7:29 am

Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have been all smiles as they emphasize improved relations between the two countries. Drawing them closer is their shared, tense relationship with the U.S..

9:48am

Tue May 13, 2014
Parallels

China's Communist Party Learns The Fine Art Of Public Relations

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 5:26 pm

Among other courses, the China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai teaches public relations to government officials, including mock TV shows and mock press conferences. NPR's Frank Langfitt took this photo from a control room, because the presence of a foreign reporter in class rattled some of the participants.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Openness doesn't come naturally to China's Communist Party. After all, China is an authoritarian state where people have little right to know how they are governed. But Communist Party schools have been trying to change that over the years by teaching officials how to deal with the news media.

Earlier this month, Qin Chang, a host at Shanghai People's Radio, taught a class on the art of the press conference at China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai's sprawling Pudong district and I was invited to watch.

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3:11am

Thu May 1, 2014
Economy

China Could Pass U.S. As Top Economy This Year

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 11:46 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States economy has been the largest in the world since the days when Ulysses S. Grant was president. That was in the 1870s. But a new World Bank report says by one measure that could change by the end of this year: China would take over the top spot this year.

To explain what the new report means and what it doesn't, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's on the line from Shanghai. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

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2:37pm

Mon April 28, 2014
News

Obama Bolsters Philippines, With One Eye On China

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 4:18 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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1:45pm

Mon April 21, 2014
Parallels

Made In The USA: Childless Chinese Turn To American Surrogates

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:46 pm

After failed attempts with Chinese surrogates, Tony Jiang and his wife now have three children, thanks to an American surrogate.
Aly Song Reuters/Landov

Chinese couples who are unable to have children are turning to a surprising place for help these days: America. By hiring American surrogates, Chinese couples get around a ban on surrogacy in China, as well as the country's birth limits.

It also guarantees their children something many wealthy Chinese want these days: a U.S. passport.

Tony Jiang and his wife, Cherry, live in Shanghai and couldn't have children naturally. First, they turned to underground hospitals in China for surrogacy.

It didn't go well.

Jiang says one of the surrogates ran away.

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11:40am

Thu April 10, 2014
Parallels

What A Ban On Taxi Apps In Shanghai Says About China's Economy

Originally published on Mon June 9, 2014 10:58 am

The Shanghai government has banned the use of taxi-booking apps such as Kuaidi Dache during rush hour. Here, a Shanghai resident displays the app on his smartphone in Shanghai, on Jan. 23.
Imagine China/Corbis

The Chinese mega-city of Shanghai has been cracking down on popular taxi-booking apps, banning their use during rush hour. The government says apps discriminate against older people and those who don't have smartphones.

But economists and some customers see the crackdown as a small, textbook case of something much bigger: the battle between the government and market forces in the world's second-largest economy.

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5:14am

Wed April 2, 2014
Business

Protesters Fault Taiwan For Trade Deal With China

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 11:04 am

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTORS)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And this is what a protest sounded like a few days ago in Taiwan, more than 100,000 people protesting a new trade agreement building ties between Chinese and Taiwanese businesses. Students are also upset. They've been occupying Taiwan's legislature for almost two weeks now.

NPR's Frank Langfitt explains why people are so angry.

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