NPR: 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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3:26am

Wed June 4, 2014
Parallels

As Myanmar Modernizes, Architectural Gems Are Endangered

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 11:08 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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6:19am

Fri May 30, 2014
Asia

Terror Attacks In China Take An Alarming Turn

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 7:39 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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1:40pm

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 6:28 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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6:09am

Thu May 29, 2014
Asia

Obama Urges China To Be Constrained Within International Rules

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 11:11 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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10:20am

Tue May 27, 2014
Parallels

With A Heavy Hand, Chinese Authorities Crack Down On Mourners

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 4:31 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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7:07am

Fri May 23, 2014
Asia

Day After Bombing, Chinese City Very Tense

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 1:45 pm

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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5:22am

Wed May 21, 2014
Asia

Russia's Putin Goes To Shanghai For Talks With Jinping

Originally published on Wed May 21, 2014 9:29 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..

11:48am

Tue May 13, 2014
Parallels

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

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 7:26 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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5:05am

Thu May 1, 2014
Economy

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

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 1:46 pm

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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4:00pm

Mon April 28, 2014
News

Obama Bolsters Philippines, With One Eye On China

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 6:18 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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4:14pm

Mon April 21, 2014
Parallels

Made In The USA: Childless Chinese Turn To American Surrogates

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 2:46 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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1:40pm

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 12:58 pm

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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7:14am

Wed April 2, 2014
Business

Protesters Fault Taiwan For Trade Deal With China

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 1:04 pm

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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4:31am

Thu March 20, 2014
Asia

Satellite Images Show Potential Debris From Flight 370

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 6:37 am

Host David Greene gets the latest from NPR's Frank Langfitt about the potential debris from Malaysia Flight 370 spotted by satellite imagery in the southern Indian Ocean.

5:08am

Wed March 19, 2014
Asia

Could Malaysian Military Have Prevented Jet's Disappearance?

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 10:28 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

More mystery in the story of that missing jetliner. Malaysian officials say files from a flight simulator owned by the captain of the plane were deleted last month. They're trying to retrieve them. Investigators are examining the pilot's simulator to see if it provides any clues about the fate of the jet.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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5:07am

Mon March 17, 2014
Asia

Investigation Into Missing Malaysian Jet Expands

Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 11:59 am

The search for the Malaysian Airlines plane that went missing more than a week ago has expanded as officials still have little idea what happened to it.

11:27am

Fri March 14, 2014
World

Satellite Signals From Missing Plane Raise Questions

Conflicting information raises even more questions about the fate of the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared nearly a week ago with 239 people on board.

4:22pm

Mon March 10, 2014
News

Broadening Search for Malaysian Airliner Still Yields Only Theories

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 7:59 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel and we begin the hour with the mystery that has confounded the world for three days. What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? The plane disappeared Friday on its way from Malaysia to Beijing with 239 people aboard. Today, the search widened. Aircraft and ships from Malaysia, Vietnam, China and the United States are searching the South China Sea for any sign.

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12:55pm

Mon March 3, 2014
Parallels

Who's Behind The Mass Stabbing In China?

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 8:41 pm

People in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming lined up 15 deep on Sunday night to donate blood for the more than 140 people who were injured in the mass knife attack at the city's rail station.
Frank Langfitt NPR

The Chinese government has blamed the deadly stabbing attack in southwest China on Muslim separatists from the country's northwest, but it has yet to provide hard evidence for the claim.

Police said they have captured the final three suspects in a knife attack that killed 29 people and left more than a 140 injured in the city of Kunming on Saturday, according to the state-run New China News Service.

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5:17am

Mon February 17, 2014
Asia

Hong Kong To Destroy Ivory Stockpile, But Will It Curb Demand In China?

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 2:02 am

Elephant tusks are displayed in October after being seized by customs officials in Hong Kong. The 189 tusks, worth $1.5 million, were hidden in soybean sacks in a shipping container.
Kin Cheung AP

Lucy Skrine, 11, was walking through the bustling streets of Hong Kong a few months ago with fellow animal activists, holding signs in Chinese and English that read: "Say No to Ivory."

"There was one mainland Chinese that came around, and she said, 'Why can't we buy ivory?' " the sixth-grader recalled. Lucy explained that poachers had to kill the elephant to extract the tusks.

"When she learned this, she was like, 'What? I thought they fell out of the elephants,' " Lucy said.

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6:32am

Wed February 12, 2014
Food

Shanghai Warms Up To A New Cuisine: Chinese Food, American-Style

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 11:25 am

The majority of patrons at Shanghai's Fortune Cookie restaurant are foreigners, particularly Americans who crave the American-Chinese food they grew up with but can't find in China.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Imagine living in China and missing Chinese food. It happens. American expatriates who grew up with popular takeout dishes like General Tso's chicken can't find it in China because it essentially doesn't exist here.

Much of the Chinese food we grew up with isn't really Chinese. It's an American version of Chinese food. Chinese immigrants created it over time, adapting recipes with U.S. ingredients to appeal to American palates.

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3:28am

Wed February 5, 2014
Parallels

China Ends One Notorious Form Of Detention, But Keeps Others

Originally published on Wed February 5, 2014 9:01 pm

Falun Gong practitioners watch a video at the Masanjia re-education through labor camp in northeast China's Liaoning province on May 22, 2001.
John Leicester AP

After more than a half-century and the imprisonment of millions of people without trial, China officially moved to abolish its re-education through labor camp system at the end of last year.

When the Communist Party makes such sweeping policy statements, it pays to be a little skeptical. Last decade, the government abolished one detention system — and then secretly created another.

So, recently I headed out on a re-education through labor camp road trip to try to find out what the government is doing with its labor camps and what is happening to all those prisoners.

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11:13am

Fri January 31, 2014
Asia

Air Quality Worries Dampen Chinese New Year Fireworks

Originally published on Fri January 31, 2014 1:56 pm

Fireworks explode in a Shanghai street on Thursday, the eve of the Lunar New Year. Setting off firecrackers is meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. But many Chinese say they won't buy firecrackers this year, owing to growing worries about air quality.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

People in China rang in the Year of the Horse overnight with the traditional barrage of fireworks, but Lunar New Year's celebrations in some cities were quieter than usual. After severe pollution choked much of eastern China last year, many people swore off the ancient tradition so they could protect their lungs and the environment.

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10:44am

Tue January 28, 2014
Parallels

In China's Hugely Indebted Cities, Some Big Bills Are Coming Due

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:55 pm

Wuhan, in central China, is in debt to the tune of a reported $33 billion — nearly twice the city's GDP. This 17-mile highway sat dormant for two years after banks cut off funding as Wuhan's debt ballooned. Work on the road resumed last year, but the construction company still hasn't been paid.
Frank Langfitt NPR

In recent years, rampant borrowing has driven a significant chunk of China's economic growth. The bill is now becoming clearer — and it's big. Late last year, China revealed that local governments owe nearly $3 trillion – more than the gross domestic product of France, the world's fifth-largest economy.

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12:42pm

Fri January 17, 2014
Asia

How I Flunked China's Driving Test ... Three Times

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 7:39 pm

Drivers step out of their vehicles for a better view while stuck in traffic along Beijing's Second Ring Road on a "Car Free Day" on Sept. 21, 2010. For foreigners trying to drive in car-crazy China, the headaches begin with the written test.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

Recently, I decided to apply for a driver's license in China. Since I already have one from the U.S., the main thing I had to do was pass a computerized test on the rules of the road here. I figured it would be a breeze.

Driving and car ownership have taken off in China. Last year, the country added nearly 18 million drivers. There is so much demand for licenses that I had to wait a month for the first available testing date.

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12:53pm

Sun December 15, 2013
The Two-Way

In Executing His Uncle, Kim Jong Un Sends Tough Message

Originally published on Sun December 22, 2013 12:55 pm

The sun rises over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which spans the Yalu River and leads into North Korea (background), at the Chinese border town of Dandong.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

The wife of a top North Korean official who was executed last week appears to have survived the latest political purge in Pyongyang.

Kim Kyong Hui, who is also the aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was named to an official funeral committee on Saturday. Analysts took it as a sign that she still retains power in the inner circle of North Korean leadership.

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4:51pm

Mon December 9, 2013
Asia

For Working-Class Chinese, 'Picture Day' Is A Rare Treat

Originally published on Tue December 10, 2013 10:45 am

Zheng Jinrong poses with a portrait of herself and her grandson in a migrant village in Shanghai. She received the photographs as part of a global event to provide high-quality portraits for people who otherwise can't afford them.
Frank Langfitt NPR

A holiday gift of sorts came early in more than 20 countries over the weekend, as volunteer photographers shot free, studio-quality portraits of more than 16,000 people who otherwise couldn't have afforded them.

A working-class neighborhood of Shanghai was among the more than 130 sites where the photo shoots took place, part of a global project inspired by Help-Portrait, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

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1:07pm

Fri November 29, 2013
Parallels

Chinese Welcome Easing Of One-Child Policy, But Can They Afford It?

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 9:03 pm

A man and child walk in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. China's government recently announced an easing of the country's one-child policy. While the move appears to be broadly supported, many urban Chinese parents say it would be hard to afford a second child.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

Many Chinese are pleased with the recent announcement that their government will further loosen the country's one-child policy. Some couples there are already allowed to have two children, while others say that even if they are permitted to have another kid, they can't afford it.

A young, professional couple surnamed Gao and Deng went to a government office in Shanghai earlier this month to apply for a marriage license.

Waiting on a metal bench, Gao, the 30-year-old groom-to-be, said he was glad more couples will be able to have a second child.

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4:02pm

Thu November 28, 2013
Asia

China's Latest Territorial Moves Renew Fears In Philippines

Originally published on Thu November 28, 2013 9:24 pm

U.S. and Philippine navy personnel patrol the seas off a naval base west of Manila in June as part of joint exercises.
Ted Aljibe AFP/Getty Images

China is flexing its muscles these days. Over the weekend, it declared a sprawling air defense identification zone that covers disputed islands controlled by Japan. And it has sent its lone aircraft carrier for first-time trials in the South China Sea, where Beijing has territorial feuds with other neighbors, including Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.

None of this was making China any friends in Manila, where the Chinese government is particularly unpopular these days.

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8:48am

Mon November 25, 2013
Parallels

After The Storm: Commerce Returns To Damaged Philippines City

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 1:11 pm

In the past week, this street market in Tacloban has grown exponentially as people try to earn money to rebuild their lives.
Frank Langfitt/ NPR

Commerce has returned to the storm-savaged streets of Tacloban in the past week. People sell bananas along the roads, and a bustling market has sprung up across several blocks downtown.

Jimbo Tampol, who works for a local Coca-Cola distributor, drives across Tacloban selling ice-cold sodas from coolers. In a city where there is no electricity and little refrigeration, a cold soda is a big deal, a symbol of normalcy.

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