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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4:31am

Mon October 14, 2013
Asia

China Experiences Surprise Drop In Exports

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with a slide in Chinese exports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Chinese exports showed a surprise drop last month, according to government figures.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, the September numbers underscore some of the challenges facing the world's second-largest economy.

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6:21pm

Tue October 8, 2013
Parallels

Asian Allies' Anxieties Rise Amid Washington Paralysis

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 7:24 pm

President Obama listens as Chinese President Xi Jinping answers a question after a bilateral meeting in California on June 7.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government has all sorts of costs — not only in the United States, but also overseas. President Obama had to cancel a trip this week to visit four nations in Asia so he could stay in Washington to deal with the political crisis. That has disappointed — even worried — some of America's friends in the region, who are counting on the United States to stand up to an increasingly assertive China.

The disappointment over the president's no-show in Asia was palpable.

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3:10pm

Wed September 25, 2013
Parallels

For Some NYU Students, A Sweet Deal To Study ... In Shanghai

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 9:58 am

The university is currently located on the leafy campus of East China Normal University. Next year, NYU Shanghai will move to a 15-story building in the city's financial district.
Frank Langfitt NPR

First-year college student Stephanie Ulan, from Queens, N.Y., had her sights set on New York University, in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

She got her wish — sort of.

At first, the school offered her a generous scholarship but told her and her father they'd still have to take out big loans.

"My father is 62 years old," says Ulan, who plans to major in international relations. "There was a big scene and he flipped out and he was, like, 'I can't do that.' "

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3:24am

Fri September 20, 2013
Parallels

Visit Paris And Venice In The Same Afternoon (In China)

Originally published on Fri September 20, 2013 2:54 pm

Sky City, a replica of Paris, is a 40-minute drive from Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang province. The rich people that developers hoped would move here never materialized.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Want to visit Paris and Venice in the same afternoon?

You can, if you're in China.

Chinese developers have for years built residential communities that mimic famous European cities and towns. They are the subject of a new book, Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China.

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11:06am

Wed September 18, 2013
Asia

China's Debate: Must The Party Follow The Constitution?

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 8:01 pm

A police officer blocks photos from being taken outside Zhongnanhai, the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China, in Beijing last year.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

Several weeks back, officials with the East China University of Political Science and Law met one of its professors, Zhang Xuezhong, at his favorite hangout, a coffeehouse in Shanghai.

Sitting in a private room, they told him he was suspended from teaching for articles he had posted on the Internet. In them, Zhang had argued that China's government needs to build a real rule of law — one to which even the party is accountable — as well as a system of checks and balances.

One way to start, he says, is to live up to the promises made in China's 1982 constitution.

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1:57pm

Thu August 29, 2013
Parallels

Too Weird To Be True? In China, You Never Can Tell

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 5:47 pm

A zoo in central China's Henan province swapped a dog — a Tibetan mastiff like the one shown here — for a lion, in another story that recently swept Chinese cyberspace.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

Here are some of the recent news stories that went viral in China that you may have missed:

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1:56pm

Thu August 22, 2013
The Two-Way

Bo Xilai's Corruption Trial In China Kicks Off With A Twist

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 7:07 pm

In this photo released by the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, Bo Xilai appears Thursday on the first day of his trial in eastern China's Shandong province. Interestingly, he was photographed flanked by two very tall policemen.
AP

In China, recent Communist Party show trials have featured cowed defendants acknowledging their crimes and offering apologies. Not this one.

The country's biggest trial in decades kicked off Thursday with the defendant, former politburo member Bo Xilai, denying guilt, claiming his confession was coerced and branding the testimony of one of his accusers — in this case his wife — "laughable."

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2:55am

Thu August 22, 2013
Parallels

China's College Grads Face A New Reality: Fewer Jobs

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 7:03 pm

Thousands descended on a job fair in Shanghai earlier this year. This summer nearly 7 million people graduated from Chinese colleges, but jobs are harder to find than in previous years.
Frank Langfitt/NPR

It's been about two months since college graduation, and more than 3 million graduates from this year and last still don't have jobs, according to government officials.

That's not in the U.S., but in China.

China is home to the world's fastest-growing major economy. But with nearly 7 million college graduates this year, a record number, finding work is tough and a worry for the ruling Communist Party.

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1:59pm

Wed August 7, 2013
Parallels

'It's Too Hot': Shanghai Wilts In Record-Setting Heat Wave

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 6:41 pm

People cool off Wednesday in a pool in Shanghai, where temperatures reached an all-time record: 105.4 degrees.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Temperatures Wednesday in Shanghai hit an all-time high: 105.4 degrees, according to officials here. It was the hottest day in 140 years, since the government began keeping records.

The Chinese megacity is in the midst of its hottest summer ever.

Usually bustling streets are near empty at noon and thousands have gone to hospitals for relief. To get a feel for how people are handling the heat wave, I waded into a public pool in the city's Hankou district. By early afternoon, the temperature was 98 degrees in the shade, according to the thermometer I brought along.

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5:24pm

Fri July 5, 2013
Parallels

Gatsby-Like Extravagance And Wealth ... In Communist China

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 12:37 pm

A waiter delivers glasses of wine to guests at a luxury hotel bar near the Bund in Shanghai, on Sept. 8, 2012.
Aly Song Reuters /Landov

1:36pm

Fri June 28, 2013
Parallels

China's 'Shadow Banking' And How It Threatens The Economy

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 2:03 pm

A woman walks past the headquarters of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing.
Jason Lee Reuters/Landov

Last week was a wild one for China's economy.

Interest rates on the loans that banks make to one another soared to alarming levels, and lending began to freeze up. Shanghai stocks nose-dived, taking Asian markets and the Dow, briefly, with them.

Things have calmed down, but the crisis showed how China's new leaders are trying to confront threats to the health of the world's second-largest economy.

Many here see it as the first shot in a long battle to reform a once-successful economic model that is now running out of gas.

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8:51am

Tue June 18, 2013
Parallels

'It's Christmas In June': China Revels In NSA Leaks Story

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 1:52 pm

A supporter holds a sign with pictures of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details about the agency's surveillance programs, and Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan during a protest outside the Consulate General of the United States in Hong Kong on June 15. Snowden has been holed up in Hong Kong since the leaks.
Kin Cheung AP

Earlier this year, the U.S. government accused China's military of running a massive cyberspying campaign to steal business secrets from American companies.

"We've made it very clear to China and some other state actors that, you know, we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules," President Obama told ABC News in March.

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4:30am

Mon June 10, 2013
National Security

Confessed NSA Leaker Hole Up In Hong Kong Hotel

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 7:08 am

The Guardian has identified its source for a series of reports it published in recent days on secret U.S. surveillance activity. The paper says the source is Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA who now works for a private-sector defense and technology consulting firm.

12:22pm

Tue June 4, 2013
The Two-Way

Rubber Ducky, You're (Not) The One. Hong Kong Quacker Spawns Others

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 3:39 pm

The original inflatable duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floats in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.
Li Peng Xinhua /Landov

Perhaps it was inevitable. Given the huge popularity of the six-story, yellow rubber ducky that's been bobbing around in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, companies in a number of mainland Chinese cities have decided to copy it.

New ducks have popped up in the central city of Wuhan, the ancient city of Xi'an, the northern port city of Tianjin and Hengdian, a town in Zhejiang province that is home to a massive movie studio.

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7:37am

Mon June 3, 2013
The Two-Way

More Than 100 Dead In China Poultry Plant Blaze

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 8:42 am

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, smoke rises from a poultry farm owned by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Jilin province on Monday.
Wang Haofei AP

A fire at a poultry processing plant fire in northeast China on Monday has killed at least 119 people, according to the Jilin province government. The blaze is one of the country's deadliest industrial accidents in recent years.

Flames broke out a little after 6 a.m. and the sprawling, low-slung plant filled with dark smoke, witnesses said. About 300 workers were inside the facility owned by the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Mishazi Township of Dehui City.

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4:28pm

Wed May 29, 2013
Parallels

In China, Customer Service And Efficiency Begin To Blossom

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 7:56 pm

A couple waits for a high-speed train in the Chinese city of Qinhuangdao. Modern infrastructure and the expanding private sector have greatly increased efficiency and customer service in many parts of Chinese life.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

China's infamous bureaucracy has bedeviled people for ages, but in recent years, daily life in some major Chinese cities has become far more efficient.

For instance, when I worked in Beijing in the 1990s, many reporters had drivers. It wasn't because they didn't drive, but because they needed someone to deal with China's crippling bureaucracy.

I had a man named Old Zhao, who would drive around for days to pay our office bills at various government utility offices. Zhao would sit in line for hours, often only to be abused by functionaries.

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5:30am

Wed May 29, 2013
Asia

China's Leaders Promise To Speed Up Economic Growth

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 1:31 pm

The Communist Party's new leadership has pledged to change China's slowing economy by putting a greater emphasis on private enterprise and reining in huge but far less profitable state-owned businesses. Economists say the party has no choice but to update if it wants to stay in power, but they doubt that a genuine overhaul is in the works.

4:11am

Fri May 24, 2013
Parallels

China's Air Pollution: Is The Government Willing To Act?

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 11:55 am

Skyscrapers are obscured by heavy haze in Beijing on Jan. 13. Air pollution remains a serious — sometimes overwhelming — problem, but researchers say environmental technology is available to solve it.
Ng Han Guan AP

Denise Mauzerall arrived in Beijing this year at a time that was both horrifying and illuminating. The capital was facing some of its worst pollution in recent memory, and Mauzerall, a Princeton environmental engineering professor, was passing through on her way to a university forum on the future of cities.

"I took the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, and looking out the window for large sections of that trip, you couldn't see more than 20 feet," Mauzerall recalled.

To Mauzerall, the lesson was surprising and inescapable.

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1:58pm

Tue May 21, 2013
Parallels

China Builds Museums ... But Will The Visitors Come?

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 5:43 pm

One of the highlights of the new China Art Palace in Shanghai is a giant digital rendering of a famous ancient scroll, "Along the River During Qingming Festival," which includes figures that walk and talk. The work was first presented at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Shanghai did something last fall that few other cities on the planet could have even considered. It opened two massive art museums right across the river from one another on the same day.

The grand openings put an exclamation point on China's staggering museum building boom. In recent years, about 100 museums have opened annually here, peaking at nearly 400 in 2011, according to the Chinese Society of Museums.

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3:05pm

Mon May 13, 2013
Parallels

Vietnam's Appetite For Rhino Horn Drives Poaching In Africa

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 5:42 pm

A Vietnamese rhino horn user displays her horn, which was a gift from her well-to-do sister. Last year, rhino horn sold for up to $1,400 an ounce in Vietnam, about the price of gold these days.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Africa is facing a growing epidemic: the slaughter of rhinos.

So far this year, South Africa has lost more than 290 rhinos — an average of at least two a day. That puts the country on track to set yet another record after poachers killed 668 rhinos in 2012.

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2:50am

Wed May 8, 2013
The Salt

Rat 'Mutton' And Bird Flu: Strange Days For Meat Eaters In Shanghai

Originally published on Thu May 9, 2013 11:43 am

A woman wearing a mask rides past a KFC restaurant in Shanghai last month. Food scares and the bird flu haven't stopped many chicken lovers in the city from visiting KFC and other restaurants.
Aly Song Reuters /Landov

The past couple of months have been unsettling ones for meat eaters in Shanghai.

In March, more than 16,000 dead pigs showed up in a stretch of the Huangpu River — a main source of the city's drinking water.

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3:25am

Thu April 25, 2013
Asia

These Days, More And More Chinese Have Driven A Ford Lately

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 2:46 am

Ford, the No. 12 passenger-car seller in China, is showing off 23 vehicles at its exhibit at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition this week.
Frank Langfitt NPR

General Motors has been the American car company in China. Even when GM was in bankruptcy, the Chinese continued to view Buick as a high-status, luxury brand.

But now Ford, an also-ran in the market for years, is making a push to change all that. Last year, Ford's sales were up more than 30 percent in China, and the Ford Focus was the best-selling car in both the world and China.

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10:13am

Sun April 14, 2013
Asia

Will Lightning Strike Twice For K-Pop's PSY?

Originally published on Sun April 14, 2013 7:03 pm

South Korean rapper PSY performs at his concert in Seoul, South Korea on Saturday.
Kin Cheung AP

There was another big story on the Korean peninsula over the weekend, but it wasn't about the guy in the north with the missiles and the threats. No, this story was about the guy in the south with the shades and the goofy dance moves, South Korean K-Pop star PSY.

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3:51pm

Thu April 11, 2013
Asia

A Symbol Of Korean Cooperation Becomes A Political Casualty

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 8:33 pm

A South Korean soldier patrols as vehicles returning from the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea arrive at a checkpoint in Paju, north of Seoul, on April 6.
Lee Jae-Won Reuters/Landov

This week, North Korea closed off the last avenue of economic cooperation with its rival, South Korea. Pyongyang says the closing of Kaesong — a joint North-South industrial complex — is temporary.

But the move is a big symbolic blow on the Korean peninsula and a potential disaster for some of the South Korean businesses that have invested there.

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1:53pm

Tue April 9, 2013
The Two-Way

A View From South Korea: The North Is 'A Playground Bully'

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 7:34 pm

Carrying on as usual: Shoppers in central Seoul on Monday.
Lee Jae-Won Reuters /Landov

Nearly two decades ago, a North Korean official threatened to turn Seoul into a "Sea of Fire." South Koreans responded by cleaning out the shelves of supermarkets and preparing for an attack that never came.

On Tuesday, North Korea urged tourists and foreign companies to leave South Korea for their own safety, saying the two countries are on the eve of a nuclear war.

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1:27pm

Thu March 14, 2013
The Salt

Shanghai's Dead Pigs: Search For Answers Turns Up Denials

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 10:08 pm

Villagers gather dead pigs in Jiaxing, in eastern China's Zhejiang province, on Wednesday. The number of dead pigs found in Shanghai's main river had doubled in two days to more than 6,000, the government said.
AFP AFP/Getty Images

More than a week has passed since thousands of dead pigs were first discovered floating in a river in Shanghai, but authorities have yet to explain fully where the pigs came from or why they died.

Fourteen of the pigs had tags in their ears identifying them as coming from Jiaxing city, in neighboring Zhejiang province. Getting to the bottom of the pig story, though, is tough. A visit to Zhulin village, where most everyone raises pigs, was greeted by serial denials.

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4:34pm

Thu March 7, 2013
Asia

Young Chinese Translate America, One Show At A Time

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 9:42 pm

The Newsroom, starring Jeff Daniels, is one of the most popular American TV series in China. It's a favorite among a cadre of young, informal translators who see it as a way to challenge conventional Chinese thinking.

Every week, thousands of young Chinese gather online to translate popular American movies and TV shows into Mandarin. Some do it for fun and to help people learn English, while others see it as a subtle way to introduce new ideas into Chinese society.

Among the more popular American TV shows on China's Internet these days is HBO's The Newsroom. One reason is an exchange between a college student and a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels. The young woman asks the aging newsman why the United States is the greatest country in the world.

The anchor explodes.

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11:47am

Wed March 6, 2013
The Two-Way

How To Sneak Into A Chinese Village When Police Don't Want You There

Originally published on Wed March 6, 2013 12:41 pm

When residents of the southern Chinese village of Shangpu staged an uprising, police set up a roadblock on the main road to keep outsiders away, including reporters. Here, a policeman mans the roadblock on Saturday.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

On occasion my job requires me to sneak into a Chinese village as I did earlier this week to report a story on a rural uprising. This does not come naturally. I'm 6-foot-2 with gray hair and blue eyes and don't look remotely like a Chinese farmer.

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5:04am

Sun February 24, 2013
The Two-Way

In China, Not Everything Has Changed

Shen Lixiu, 58, says she had her front teeth kicked out in a re-education through labor camp. Chinese authorities say they are considering "reforms" to a system that is coming under increasing public criticism.
Frank Langfitt NPR

A lot of journalism about China focuses on the country's rapid and stunning changes, but equally telling are the things that stay the same. I did my first story on China's re-education through labor camps back in 2001.

I met a former inmate named Liu Xiaobo for lunch in Beijing. Liu, soft-spoken and thoughtful, had written an article mourning those who had died in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He had also called for democracy.

So, one day, police took him from his house and charged him with "slandering the Communist Party" and "disrupting social order."

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3:20am

Fri February 22, 2013
Asia

Ex-Inmates Speak Out About Labor Camps As China Considers 'Reforms'

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 9:59 pm

Some former prisoners of re-education through labor camps and their supporters hold signs in Beijing declaring, "No Re-education Through Labor." Popular opposition to the camps has grown as China's state-run media has highlighted particularly egregious cases.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Shen Lixiu's story is numbingly familiar.

Officials in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing knocked down her karaoke parlor for development. She says they then offered her compensation that was less than 20 percent of what she had invested in the place.

Shen complained to the central government. Local authorities responded by sentencing her to a "re-education through labor" camp for a year. Once inside, Shen says, camp workers tried to force her to accept the compensation.

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