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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11:47am

Tue October 21, 2014
Parallels

A Hong Kong Protest Camp Spawns Its Own Art

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 12:56 pm

Frank Langfitt NPR

Now in its improbable fourth week, the main pro-democracy protest camp in Hong Kong's Admiralty district is a sort of Woodstock on the South China Sea.

A sea of tents, the camp teems with street art and propaganda posters. They range from sculptures and cartoons to protest banners and the "Lennon Wall" — a reference to John Lennon and a similar wall in Prague — where people have written thousands of messages on colored Post-it notes.

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11:19am

Sun October 19, 2014
Parallels

An Urban Village Pops Up To Comfort Hong Kong Protesters

Originally published on Mon October 20, 2014 11:43 am

Student demonstrators don't want to fall behind on their studies, so volunteers built them an outdoor study hall. Some of the desks are built into the concrete highway divider.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Hong Kong's main pro-democracy protest camp turned three-weeks-old over the weekend. What began as a road block has grown into urban village with several hundred tents that attracts more than a thousand people at night.

The camp is a combo street fair, outdoor art gallery with political sculptures, propaganda posters as well as speeches, movie screenings and even a free library.

The vibe here is like an American college campus in the 1960s, except it's on an island on the edge of the South China Sea and surrounded by skyscrapers.

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3:16am

Fri October 17, 2014
Parallels

Free Speech In Hong Kong, Then And Now

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 2:37 pm

Pro-democracy protesters shout slogans during a standoff with police outside the central government offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

I've been traveling to Hong Kong since 1997, when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule. Reporting on the pro-democracy protests in recent weeks, I've been struck by a change in the people here. Many are no longer willing to give their full names when talking about politics and the current protests.

A couple of nights ago I was interviewing a real estate agent in a pinstripe suit on an elevated walkway as police battled and pepper-sprayed demonstrators in the distance.

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4:44pm

Thu October 9, 2014
Parallels

A Surprising Tie That Binds Hong Kong's Protest Leaders: Faith

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 9:45 pm

A student prays in front of a temporary altar during a rally outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 24.
Bobby Yip Reuters /Landov

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong in the past two weeks, demanding democracy and grabbing global attention.

Many threads have run through the protests, including one that might seem surprising: faith. Many of the leaders are Christian, and some cite faith as an inspiration.

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4:01am

Thu October 9, 2014
Parallels

Economics, Tensions With Mainlanders Fuel Hong Kong's Protests

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 10:26 am

Protesters dressed as Chinese Red Guards chant during a May demonstration in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. People from Hong Kong staged a satirical rally to urge Chinese tourists to stay in mainland China. Competition for housing, grades and jobs between the two groups have produced deep tensions.
Anthony Kwan Getty Images

If the goal of the protesters who flooded Hong Kong streets in the past couple of weeks can be boiled down to a word, it's "democracy."

But many real-life worries have driven that demand, including economic ones. They range from frustration about jobs and high housing prices to competition — and a culture clash — with mainland Chinese.

Perry Chong, a die-hard protester, was sitting beneath a tent in a nearly abandoned protest zone Wednesday across from the city government headquarters.

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4:20pm

Tue October 7, 2014
Parallels

After Clogging The Streets, Hong Kong Protests Dwindle

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 9:45 am

Two schoolgirls walk past a barricade on a street outside Hong Kong's government complex on Tuesday. Many protesters have returned to work and to school. Student leaders and government officials agreed Tuesday to hold talks on ending the protests.
Chris McGrath Getty Images

Nixon Ma runs a small electronics shop in Hong Kong's Wanchai business district, and since the protests began late last month, he says, sales are down 30 percent.

Like the protesters, he wants to see genuine democracy in this former British colony. But he opposes the tactics of the demonstrators who filled the streets and disrupted businesses.

"I agree. I 100 percent support [the protesters], but not in this way," he says. "For example, taxi drivers, a lot of businesses are unhappy because it disturbs their normal lives," he says.

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2:43pm

Mon October 6, 2014
Parallels

On China's Mainland, A Less Charitable Take On Hong Kong's Protests

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 7:31 pm

A woman walks past umbrellas with pro-democracy slogans written on them at a protest site near Hong Kong government headquarters on Saturday.
Wong Maye-E AP

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have impressed people around the world with their idealism, politeness and guts. But in mainland China, the view is different.

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5:46am

Sat October 4, 2014
Parallels

Gambling in Macau: A Reversal of Fortune ... And Values

Originally published on Sat October 4, 2014 1:50 pm

Tourists gather in front of old and new Casino Lisboa during a Chinese New Year celebration in Macau, a special administrative region of China, on Feb. 1. For decades, the Lisboa was the only game in town. Now, the world's biggest gambling companies are scrambling to set up shot in what was once a sleepy Portuguese colony.
Vincent Yu AP

As casinos close in Atlantic City, more are rising halfway around the world in Macau, a Chinese territory on the edge of the South China Sea.

Macau already has 35 casinos, including the Venetian, which features gondoliers from Naples and Florence who belt out "O Sole Mio" along an ersatz canal as Chinese tourists snap pictures. In the next several years, Macau will add more multibillion-dollar gambling resorts modeled on Versailles and Paris.

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9:55am

Mon September 15, 2014
Parallels

Chinese Teacher Is Busted After Demanding Gifts From Students

Originally published on Mon September 15, 2014 11:42 am

Chinese authorities have suspended a teacher after she was recorded berating her students for not providing teachers with gifts.

Many parents in China's hypercompetitive schooling system use gifts to try to buy influence.

The teacher, Feng Qunchao in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, harangued the high school students throughout the class.

"You don't take this seriously, huh?" she says, according to an audio tape. "Can't afford two or four dollars? You guys are a bunch of trash! A bunch of dog lungs," she adds, using a Chinese insult.

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2:40pm

Fri September 12, 2014
Parallels

Riding The 'Silver Dragon,' Surfers Tame China's 10-Foot River Waves

Originally published on Fri September 12, 2014 11:01 pm

A team from Honolulu, which included Jamie O'Brien of Hawaii's North Shore, won this week's surfing competition, held on one of the world's two biggest tidal bores, located in Hangzhou, China. The other is in the Amazon.
Courtesy of Wabsono

The hottest surfing in China this week wasn't along some palm-fringed beach in the south, but on a muddy, sometimes trash-strewn river in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

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3:21am

Thu September 11, 2014
Goats and Soda

The Alibaba Effect: How China's eBay Transformed Village Economics

Originally published on Thu September 11, 2014 10:58 am

Handsome Zhang — that's his real name in Mandarin --€“ runs a shipping company, one of many supporting businesses spawned by East Wind village's furniture industry. The shipping business helped Zhang, 25, buy this Kia sports car.
Frank Langfitt NPR

The Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba is poised this week for what could be one of the biggest IPOs in Wall Street history. One reason Alibaba has been so dominant in China is its business-to-consumer platform, Taobao, a sort of Chinese eBay.

Last year, Taobao and Alibaba's brand-name retail site, Tmall, drove nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in transactions.

Along the way, Taobao has even transformed village economies.

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1:54pm

Mon September 8, 2014
Parallels

From A Chinese Apartment To Wall Street Darling: The Rise Of Alibaba

Originally published on Mon September 8, 2014 8:23 pm

Jack Ma speaks in Hangzhou, China, on May 10, 2013. Ma shot to fame as the founder of Alibaba, the pioneering Chinese e-commerce site that's poised to be one of the biggest tech IPOs ever when it goes public in New York.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

Like most great origin stories, the tale behind China's e-commerce giant, Alibaba, begins simply. In the winter of 1999, Jack Ma, a former English teacher, gathered friends in an apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

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5:38am

Sun September 7, 2014
Parallels

China Gets A Big Dose Of Fine Art Photography

Originally published on Mon September 8, 2014 5:24 am

Peikwen Cheng; Praying from the Lost and Found Series, 2010.
Peikwen Cheng Courtesy of MD Gallery

China's largest fair devoted to fine art photography opened in Shanghai this weekend. The first-time event is called Photo Shanghai and includes more than 500 works from photographers around the world.

One of the exhibits drawing a lot of Chinese visitors this weekend is by photographer Zhang Kechun. One of the most striking images features a Buddha head, about 40 feet high, sitting in the middle of an open pit coal mine.

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4:19pm

Wed September 3, 2014
Asia

Hong Kong's Drive For Open Elections Runs Low On Steam

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 7:04 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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6:30am

Mon September 1, 2014
Parallels

Why Did Crowd Flee Shanghai Subway After Foreigner Fainted?

Originally published on Tue September 2, 2014 10:59 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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3:14pm

Mon August 25, 2014
Parallels

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

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 7:53 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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5:28am

Sat August 23, 2014
Parallels

China's Pollution Crisis Inspires An Unsettling Art Exhibit

Originally published on Sat August 23, 2014 11:48 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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3:32am

Fri August 8, 2014
Parallels

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

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 12:19 pm

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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5:35am

Thu July 10, 2014
Asia

China's Booming Real Estate Market Finally Begins To Slide

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 11:38 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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3:33am

Wed June 25, 2014
Asia

Beijing: From Hardship Post To Plum Assignment And Back Again

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 9:48 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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6:16am

Mon June 16, 2014
Parallels

A Chinese Chemical Company And A 'Bath Salts' Epidemic

Originally published on Mon June 16, 2014 10:16 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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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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5:11am

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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