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
3:26 am
Mon April 20, 2015

So Long 'Cinderella,' Website Helps Chinese Find Better English Names

The website bestenglishname.com uses the answers to questions about subjects such as music, sports and personal style to generate suitable English names.
Via bestenglishname.com

Originally published on Mon April 20, 2015 6:49 am

Cinderella. Billboard. Mo Money. Lady Gaga.

What do they all have in common?

They are a few of the unusual English names young Chinese have adopted over the years in hopes of mixing more easily with Westerners. Such offbeat names, though, sometimes have the opposite effect, generating puzzlement and the wrong kind of smiles.

Lindsay Jernigan, an American entrepreneur, has set up a new website, bestenglishname.com, to help Chinese choose more appropriate names.

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Asia
3:54 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

Sidewalk Touts Trade Tips On Shanghai's Booming Bull Market

Money is pouring into the stock market, but most new investors only have a middle-school education, says Texas A&M University economist Gan Li.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 8:50 am

On weekend afternoons, large crowds descend on a pair of street corners across from People's Square in downtown Shanghai to trade stock tips. Shen Yuxi has set up a homemade desk with two laptops, a big flat screen and offers insights like this:

"When a Communist Party chairman takes office, I buy stock in companies from his hometown," Shen tells a crowd of about 20 people that spills out over the sidewalk.

Recently, Shen has been buying up companies in Shaanxi, the home province of Xi Jinping, who serves as general secretary of China's Communist Party.

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Parallels
12:03 pm
Fri April 3, 2015

For Chinese Migrant Workers, It Is Possible To Go Home Again

Passengers go to the Nanchang railway station in eastern China in February 2014, at the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. In the past, it was often the only time of year that migrant workers were able to return home. Now, economic pressures on factories in coastal China have led to a reversal of a decades-long migration of workers from inland to the coast.
Zhou Ke Xinhua/Landov

Originally published on Fri April 10, 2015 6:30 pm

Over the past couple of decades, a river of labor poured out of China's interior to its coasts as hundreds of millions of people traded farm for factory. Most improved their lives, but they paid for it in other ways, leaving behind families for a sometimes lonely existence.

These days, though, more and more factories are moving from the coast into China's countryside, creating an opportunity for more workers to come home — workers like Zhang Zhaojun, who left the mountains of Hubei province in central China in 2009.

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Asia
7:46 am
Thu March 26, 2015

An NPR Reporter Chauffeurs A Chinese Couple 500 Miles To Their Rural Wedding

Frank Langfitt/NPR

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 8:49 am

Read this essay in Chinese.

That's me (with scarf) in what's becoming my natural element, driving Chinese people around Shanghai and beyond for a series called "Streets of Shanghai." Usually, I offer free rides around the city so I can meet different kinds of people and get a sense of real life in China, where things move so fast a generation can be measured in five years.

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Goats and Soda
3:59 pm
Thu February 5, 2015

Why Is Nearsightedness Skyrocketing Among Chinese Youth?

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 2:24 pm

If you walk the streets of China today, you'll quickly notice that most young people wear glasses. In Shanghai, for instance, 86 percent of high school students suffer from myopia, or nearsightedness, according to the government's Xinhua News Agency.

Myopia has risen quickly in much of East Asia and Southeast Asia. And researchers are still trying to pin down exactly what's driving the epidemic.

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Parallels
2:56 am
Tue February 3, 2015

The Oscar Nominees Are In; The Shanghai DVD Sellers Are Stocking Up

Some DVD vendors in Shanghai still sell on the street, but a government crackdown forced most out of business or into storefronts.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Sun February 8, 2015 10:40 pm

The Academy Awards are coming this month, and if you're still trying to see all the Oscar-nominated films, it may be easier to find them in China than in the U.S.

A few weeks ago, the films flooded into the pirated-DVD store down the street from my apartment in Shanghai. It happens like clockwork every year.

I asked T.J. Green, an American executive who runs a small movie theater company here in China, to visit the store and explain what was happening.

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Parallels
12:34 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

China Continues To Push The (Fake) Envelope

Some fake Apple stores like this one in Kunming, in China's southwestern Yunnan province, were so authentic-looking that even some of their employees didn't know they were fake.
Stephen Shaver UPI/Landov

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 5:20 pm

Nobody does fake like China. In 2011, a fake Apple store popped up in the southwestern city of Kunming. It looked so authentic, even some employees thought it was real.

This year, three farmers in central China set up a fake local government.

This month, police shut down a fake bank in the eastern city of Nanjing, where depositors reportedly lost nearly $33 million.

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The Two-Way
7:59 am
Wed January 21, 2015

Shanghai Fires 4 Officials Over Fatal New Year's Eve Stampede

On Jan. 1, people gathered at a makeshift memorial marking the site of a New Year's Eve stampede on the Bund in Shanghai, China. Three dozen people died, and dozens more were injured.
Kevin Frayer Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 1:57 am

The Shanghai government has fired four local officials for failing to prevent a stampede that killed three dozen people on New Year's Eve. Those who lost their jobs include Shanghai's Huangpu district Communist Party chief, its director and its top two police officials.

Investigators say that as huge crowds packed the riverfront in the Huangpu district, district party Chief Zhou Wei and other officials were busy enjoying a banquet at an opulent Japanese restaurant nearby.

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Asia
4:12 am
Thu January 15, 2015

American Film On A Tibetan Migrant Finds Unlikely Success — In China

Zanta now lives on the outskirts of Beijing.
Courtesy of Jocelyn Ford

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 9:16 am

An American filmmaker has made a documentary on Tibet. Those two elements alone might seem grounds for China's Communist Party to ban it, but instead the film — Nowhere to Call Home — quietly has been making the rounds in China and winning praise from local audiences.

The reason? The film is an even-handed, deeply personal story that steers clear of politics. Journalist Jocelyn Ford spent years documenting the life of Zanta, a Tibetan migrant who fled her poor, mountain village to build a life for herself and her son in Beijing.

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10:23 am
Fri January 2, 2015

Along Shanghai's River, Buddhist Tradition Meets Greedy Fishermen

Buddhists pour fish into the river in Shanghai. Environmentalists say the ritual, while well-intentioned, can introduce invasive species. Many of the fish are quickly swooped up in nets by fishermen who position themselves nearby.
Julia Langfitt for NPR

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 5:49 pm

China today is a whirlwind of competing trends: authoritarianism versus personal freedom; pollution versus environmentalism, and self-interest versus spirituality.

That last conflict plays out every other Sunday morning in Shanghai when hundreds of Buddhists pack the banks of the city's Huangpu River. Monks in saffron-colored robes lead believers in song in the shadow of some of the world's tallest skyscrapers.

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11:51 am
Wed December 24, 2014

China's Fierce Anti-Corruption Crackdown: An Insider's View

China's President Xi Jinping, shown speaking in Bruges, Belgium, back in April, has made fighting corruption one of his top priorities. Many Chinese bureaucrats are angry, saying a loss of bribes has greatly reduced their incomes.
Yves Logghe AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue December 30, 2014 9:03 am

A government job in China used to be a gravy train: easy hours, little scrutiny and — usually — a chance to make good money through perks and corruption. This year, though, the 1.4 million candidates who signed up to take China's civil service exam marked a drop of more than 100,000 from the previous year.

Most people think the reason is the government's fierce anti-corruption drive, which has taken a lot of the profit out of public service. Recently, a low-level Shanghai official vented to NPR about life under China's toughest crackdown in modern memory.

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Parallels
2:27 am
Tue December 23, 2014

Reporter Offers Free Cab Rides For Stories From 'Streets Of Shanghai'

NPR reporter Frank Langfitt and one of his "customers," a biotech worker, whom he drove to a self-help conference in Shanghai's sprawling Pudong District.
NPR

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 9:30 am

Editor's Note: NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt once drove a taxi as a summer job. He decided to do it again, this time offering free rides around Shanghai in exchange for stories about one of the world's most dynamic cities. This is the first in an occasional series.

I've been working on an unusual reporting project this fall in Shanghai. I picked up a car and have been driving around the city offering people free rides.

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Asia
4:15 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Police Finish Dismantling Hong Kong Protest Sites

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 8:14 pm

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

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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Parallels
9:21 am
Sun November 23, 2014

After 2 Months, Hong Kong Residents Want Protesters To Head Home

A census by protesters estimates the main protest camp in Hong Kong is home to about 2,200 tents, but most are empty these days as crowds have dwindled.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Mon November 24, 2014 1:15 pm

Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, the longest of their kind on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, turn 2 months old on Sunday.

In early October, the demonstrations grabbed media attention around the world and galvanized Hong Kongers, but now most of them just want the protests to end. Independent polls show people overwhelmingly oppose the continued occupation of city streets because it's inconvenient and appears to be futile.

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Asia
4:06 am
Tue November 18, 2014

Hong Kong Authorities Clear Area In Protest Zone

Originally published on Tue November 18, 2014 4:25 pm

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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The Two-Way
9:46 am
Tue November 11, 2014

In China, Dreaded Process Of Getting Visa To The U.S. May Get Easier

Chinese citizens wait to submit their visa applications at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 2012. Wait times for interviews once could stretch to a month or more.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 5:41 pm

On Wednesday, the U.S. will begin offering Chinese tourists and business people multiple-entry visas valid for up to 10 years. The change, announced by President Obama in Beijing, is designed to help the American economy and build goodwill in China. China's Foreign Ministry says it will reciprocate.

The first impression most Chinese have of the U.S. government comes when they apply for a visa. For years, they've dreaded the process.

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Parallels
2:08 pm
Fri November 7, 2014

Capitalism Is Making China Richer, But Not Democratic

Visitors walk past a portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on Sept. 30, the eve of National Day.
Greg Baker AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 7, 2014 10:41 pm

As far back as the early 1990s, Washington thought trade and investment eventually would make China more democratic. In the past couple of years, though, the Communist Party has doubled down on repression at home and become more aggressive overseas.

In short, things have not turned out as Washington had hoped, and relations between the world's two major powers are tense these days.

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Parallels
2:37 am
Fri November 7, 2014

China's Corruption Crackdown Pummels Macau Casinos

The casino strip in Macau has revenues roughly seven times its counterpart in Las Vegas. With China's government cracking down on corruption, the gambling business is down sharply.
Chris McGrath Getty Images

Originally published on Tue November 11, 2014 3:27 pm

The southern Chinese city of Macau is the global capital of casino gambling. Last year, revenue rose about 20 percent, hitting $45 billion — nearly seven times the haul on the Las Vegas strip.

But since June, Macau's take has tumbled every month, according to local government figures. In October, revenue plunged 23 percent, the biggest drop on record.

Insiders say China's anti-corruption crackdown is scaring off high rollers — including corrupt officials.

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The Two-Way
9:01 am
Tue October 28, 2014

China May Drop 9 Crimes From List Of Death Penalty Offenses

Police officers stand guard in front of the Hefei City Intermediate People's Court in China's Anhui Province.
Andy Wong AP

Chinese lawmakers are considering removing nine crimes from eligibility for the death penalty. A draft amendment to that effect went to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing this week. It appears to be part of a trend to reduce the use of the death penalty in a country that still executes more people than any other.

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The Two-Way
6:09 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Tweets In Hong Kong Put Kenny G In Jam With Communist Party

After deleting tweets from a Hong Kong protest site, Kenny G said he was "not trying to defy government orders."
Tomasz Gzell EPA/Landov

Originally published on Thu October 23, 2014 12:58 pm

Politics between Hong Kong and mainland China are a minefield these days, and if Kenny G, the 1980s saxophone superstar, didn't know it, he does now.

Kenny G, who is hugely popular in mainland China, was in Hong Kong on Wednesday and decided to pop by the main pro-democracy protest camp, which is now in its fourth week.

He posed for photos with fans, flashed a peace sign and said he hoped the demonstrations would end peacefully.

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Parallels
10:47 am
Tue October 21, 2014

A Hong Kong Protest Camp Spawns Its Own Art

Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 11:56 am

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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10:19 am
Sun October 19, 2014

An Urban Village Pops Up To Comfort Hong Kong Protesters

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

Originally published on Mon October 20, 2014 10:43 am

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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Parallels
2:16 am
Fri October 17, 2014

Free Speech In Hong Kong, Then And Now

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

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 1:37 pm

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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3:44 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 8:45 pm

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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Parallels
3:01 am
Thu October 9, 2014

Economics, Tensions With Mainlanders Fuel Hong Kong's Protests

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

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

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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Parallels
3:20 pm
Tue October 7, 2014

After Clogging The Streets, Hong Kong Protests Dwindle

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

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

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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Parallels
1:43 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

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

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

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

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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Parallels
4:46 am
Sat October 4, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Sat October 4, 2014 12:50 pm

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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Parallels
8:55 am
Mon September 15, 2014

Chinese Teacher Is Busted After Demanding Gifts From Students

Originally published on Mon September 15, 2014 10:42 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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Parallels
1:40 pm
Fri September 12, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Fri September 12, 2014 10:01 pm

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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