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
2:05 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Made In The USA: Childless Chinese Turn To American Surrogates

After failed attempts with Chinese surrogates, Tony Jiang and his wife now have three children, thanks to an American surrogate.
Aly Song Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 9:13 am

Chinese couples who are unable to have children are turning to a surprising place for help these days: America. By hiring American surrogates, Chinese couples get around a ban on surrogacy in China, as well as the country's birth limits.

It also guarantees their children something many wealthy Chinese want these days: a U.S. passport.

Tony Jiang and his wife, Cherry, live in Shanghai and couldn't have children naturally. First, they turned to underground hospitals in China for surrogacy.

It didn't go well.

Jiang says one of the surrogates ran away.

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Asia
3:21 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Death Toll Expected To Climb In South Korea Ferry Disaster

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 2:33 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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Parallels
11:40 am
Thu April 10, 2014

What A Ban On Taxi Apps In Shanghai Says About China's Economy

The Shanghai government has banned the use of taxi-booking apps such as Kuaidi Dache during rush hour. Here, a Shanghai resident displays the app on his smartphone in Shanghai, on Jan. 23.
Imagine China/Corbis

Originally published on Thu April 10, 2014 6:12 pm

The Chinese mega-city of Shanghai has been cracking down on popular taxi-booking apps, banning their use during rush hour. The government says apps discriminate against older people and those who don't have smartphones.

But economists and some customers see the crackdown as a small, textbook case of something much bigger: the battle between the government and market forces in the world's second-largest economy.

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Business
5:14 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Protesters Fault Taiwan For Trade Deal With China

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 11:04 am

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTORS)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And this is what a protest sounded like a few days ago in Taiwan, more than 100,000 people protesting a new trade agreement building ties between Chinese and Taiwanese businesses. Students are also upset. They've been occupying Taiwan's legislature for almost two weeks now.

NPR's Frank Langfitt explains why people are so angry.

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Asia
2:31 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Satellite Images Show Potential Debris From Flight 370

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 4:37 am

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

Asia
3:01 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Could Malaysian Military Have Prevented Jet's Disappearance?

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 8:28 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Asia
3:02 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Investigation Into Missing Malaysian Jet Expands

Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 9:59 am

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

World
8:29 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Satellite Signals From Missing Plane Raise Questions

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 9:27 am

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

News
2:22 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

Broadening Search for Malaysian Airliner Still Yields Only Theories

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 5:59 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

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Asia
1:04 am
Mon March 10, 2014

'Sherlock,' 'House Of Cards' Top China's Must-Watch List

Plot lines adorn the walls of 221B Baker Street, a Sherlock Holmes-themed coffee shop in Shanghai.
Frank Langfitt NPR

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

What do an eccentric British detective, a cut-throat Washington pol and a bunch of nerds at Caltech have in common?

They are characters in some of the most popular foreign TV shows in China.

Over the past five years, The Big Bang Theory alone has been streamed more than 1.3 billion times. To appreciate how much some young Chinese love the BBC series, Sherlock, step inside 221B Baker Street. That's Holmes' fictitious address in London as well as the name of a café that opened last year in Shanghai's former French Concession.

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Parallels
10:55 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Who's Behind The Mass Stabbing In China?

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

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 6:41 pm

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

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

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Asia
3:17 am
Mon March 3, 2014

China Blames Muslim Separatists For Deadly Attack

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 9:11 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

China's official news agency is reporting that police have captured three suspects in connection with the weekend massacre at a train station in the country's southwest. The unprecedented attack, which involved long-bladed knives, left at least 29 dead and more than 130 injured. Officials are blaming it on Muslim separatists in China's far northwest, and state-controlled media are calling it China's 9-11. NPR's Frank Langfitt spoke with survivors in the southwestern city of Kunming.

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Asia
3:17 am
Mon February 17, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 12:02 am

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

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

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

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Food
4:32 am
Wed February 12, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 9:25 am

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

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

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Parallels
1:28 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 7:01 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
3:10 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 11:56 am

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
8:45 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 4:55 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
10:42 am
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 5:39 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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Parallels
8:03 am
Mon January 6, 2014

In Fast-Changing China, Reality Can Overtake Fiction

Qiu Xiaolong in his ancestral house during a visit from his home in St. Louis.
Frank Langfitt/NPR

Originally published on Tue January 7, 2014 7:03 pm

One of the challenges of writing about China is the country moves fast — sometimes faster than the publishing business. Take Enigma of China, the latest detective novel by Chinese-American author Qiu Xiaolong.

In one scene, Qiu's main character, Inspector Chen, sits in a Shanghai restaurant scanning a hotel where government agents are holding a corrupt official in secret detention.

Recently, Qiu took me on a tour of the book's real-life settings, including the site of that eatery.

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The Two-Way
10:53 am
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 10:55 am

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
2:34 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 8:45 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
3:01 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

Biden Arrives In Beijing As Trouble Brews Over The East China Sea

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

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Vice President Joe Biden is in Tokyo today. He's there to reemphasize American support for Japan as it tangles with China over contested air space. China unnerved its neighbors late last month by declaring an air identification defense zone. The zone covers disputed islands in the East China Sea. NPR's Frank Langfitt has more from Shanghai on what's behind China's latest move.

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Parallels
1:54 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 7:03 pm

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

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

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

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Asia
2:02 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 7:24 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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Asia
3:51 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

More Changes For China After Leadership Conference

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 6:07 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Two big announcements today from China. Its government said that it will further loosen the country's one-child policy and abolish its infamous re-education through labor camps. The news follows a special four-day meeting of the country's leaders, and to hear more about why China is doing this and what it might mean, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai. Frank, welcome to the program.

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Asia
3:31 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Chinese Communist Party Meeting Promises Big, Yet Vague, Changes

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 3:56 pm

China's Communist Party wrapped up a four-day meeting Tuesday that could herald big changes for the nation's economy. The meeting carries the soporific title The Third Plenary of the 18th Central Committee. But historically, a third plenary has meant transformational reforms.

Asia
2:42 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Western Media In China: Adjusting To The 'Anaconda'

An exterior view of the Bloomberg building in New York. Bloomberg staffers say editors spiked a story that exposed financial ties between a tycoon and family members of top Chinese officials.
Eduardo Munoz Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Mon November 11, 2013 1:15 pm

Last weekend was a bad one for foreign reporting in China.

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Asia
2:47 am
Fri November 8, 2013

China's Challenge: How To Keep Economic Boom Alive

Office workers walk past China Dream propaganda boards, showing messages pushed by current Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration, on display near a construction site in Beijing on Oct. 8. The country's leaders are meeting this weekend to chart China's economic course.
Andy Wong AP

Originally published on Fri November 8, 2013 5:44 pm

How do you keep the world's longest economic win streak alive?

That's the question China's leaders face at a meeting that opens Saturday in Beijing. The meeting, known as the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, is the most important of its kind in years, and for the planet's second-largest economy, a lot hangs in the balance.

In decades past, meetings like this have been game changers. Consider the one in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping officially shut the door on the chaotic Mao era.

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Parallels
8:28 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 6:45 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
9:28 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 11:32 am

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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