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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Parallels
3:28 am
Wed February 5, 2014

China Ends One Notorious Form Of Detention, But Keeps Others

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

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

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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Asia
11:13 am
Fri January 31, 2014

Air Quality Worries Dampen Chinese New Year Fireworks

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

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

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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Parallels
10:45 am
Tue January 28, 2014

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

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

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

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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Asia
12:42 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

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

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

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

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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The Two-Way
12:53 pm
Sun December 15, 2013

In Executing His Uncle, Kim Jong Un Sends Tough Message

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

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

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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Asia
4:51 pm
Mon December 9, 2013

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

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

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

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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Asia
4:02 pm
Thu November 28, 2013

China's Latest Territorial Moves Renew Fears In Philippines

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

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

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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Parallels
8:48 am
Mon November 25, 2013

After The Storm: Commerce Returns To Damaged Philippines City

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

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

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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Parallels
10:28 am
Wed November 6, 2013

In Violent Hospitals, China's Doctors Can Become Patients

People wait in line at a counter for medical services at the Guanganmen Chinese medicine hospital in Beijing.
David Gray Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 8:45 pm

Several hundred doctors and nurses jammed the courtyard of the No. 1 People's Hospital in Wenling, a city with a population of about 1 million in Zhejiang province, a four-hour train ride south of Shanghai.

They wore surgical masks to hide their identities from the government and waved white signs that read, "Zero tolerance for violence."

"Doctors and nurses must be safe to take care of people's health!" video shows them chanting.

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Parallels
11:28 am
Wed October 30, 2013

Someone In Central China Really Stinks At Photoshop

In a photo originally posted to a county government website, local officials purportedly visit a 100-year-old woman in Anhui province. They sure are tall, aren't they? And what happened to the legs of the guy on the right?
Ningguo Civil Affairs Department via Chinanews.com

Originally published on Wed October 30, 2013 1:32 pm

Local Chinese government propagandists have outdone themselves in what seems to be the increasingly competitive category of bad Photoshop.

This week's entry hails from Ningguo County in central China's Anhui province. The workmanship is so bad, it seems almost, well, effortless.

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Parallels
3:12 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Desperate Chinese Villagers Turn To Self-Immolation

Relatives of He Mengqing walk in front of his house, which the local government has slated for demolition. The rice farmer from Chenzhou in China's Hunan province rejected a government offer of compensation for his land; he set himself on fire when officials came for him.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 11:07 am

In order to turn China into an urban nation, local governments have demolished tens of millions of homes over the past decade. Homeowners have often fought back, blocking heavy machinery and battling officials.

In recent years, resistance has taken a disturbing turn: Since 2009, at least 53 people across China have lit themselves on fire to protest the destruction of their homes, according to human rights and news reports.

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Asia
4:31 am
Mon October 14, 2013

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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Parallels
6:21 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Asian Allies' Anxieties Rise Amid Washington Paralysis

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

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

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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Parallels
3:10 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
3:24 am
Fri September 20, 2013

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

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

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

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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Asia
11:06 am
Wed September 18, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
1:57 pm
Thu August 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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The Two-Way
1:56 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
2:55 am
Thu August 22, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
1:59 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
5:24 pm
Fri July 5, 2013

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

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

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

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Parallels
1:36 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

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

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

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

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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Parallels
8:51 am
Tue June 18, 2013

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

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

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

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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National Security
4:30 am
Mon June 10, 2013

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.

The Two-Way
12:22 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

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

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

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

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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