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Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe. Previously, Langfitt spent five years as an NPR correspondent covering China. Based in Shanghai, he drove a free taxi around the city for a series on a changing China as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. As part of the series, Langfitt drove passengers back to the countryside for Chinese New Year and served as a wedding chauffeur. He also helped a Chinese-American NPR listener hunt for her missing sister in the mountains of Yunnan province.

While in China, Langfitt also reported on the government'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 Shanghai, Langfitt was NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He reported from Sudan, covered the civil war in Somalia 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 NPR's labor correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covered the 2008 financial crisis, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler and coalmine disasters in West Virginia.

In 2008, Langfitt also 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.

Before coming to NPR, Langfitt spent five years as a correspondent in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun, covering a swath of Asia from East Timor to the Khyber Pass.

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. Prior to becoming a reporter, Langfitt dug latrines in Mexico and drove a taxi in his home town of Philadelphia. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

When it comes to the future of China's economy, Wang Dengwen is yesterday's man. He came from the countryside and found work a few years ago at Shanghai's Baosteel, smoothing the edges off steel plates.

After his first year, the steel market began to slide and the company cut Wang's monthly salary from $780 to about $620. A couple of months ago, Wang, 34, took a second job, earning $2.25 an hour delivering food for KFC.

One recent afternoon, I was walking up Nanjing West Road, Shanghai's traditional shopping street, when I ran into a crowd of protesters being chased off by a plainclothes cop wielding a bullhorn and a line of uniformed police. Demonstrations like this in the heart of the city are rare and sensitive for the government, which fears political unrest as China's economic growth continues to slow.

I asked a fleeing protester what had happened.

"Don't walk alongside me," pleaded the woman, named Zhao, staring straight ahead. "The police will detain me."

The South China Sea fills Ma Sijin with national pride.

The retired ink factory worker says he is glad to see China challenging foreign powers, including the United States, over control of the strategic waterway.

"All the Chinese people have now stood up!" says Ma, 66, quoting the famous words of Chairman Mao Zedong when he announced the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

"When all is said and done, everybody knows who these islands belong to," Ma continues, polishing off a dinner of meatballs, rice and greens in Shanghai. "They belong to China."

I first met Tess Johnston in the late 1990s in a yellow, stucco apartment building where she lived in Shanghai's former French Concession. As was her habit, she dropped the key from her third-floor window and I let myself in.

Her drafty apartment was crammed with books and street maps. Over tea, Johnston, then in her late 60s, regaled me with her latest adventures, rushing through the city's back alleys to photograph old European-style villas before they succumbed to sledge hammers.

It's 9:30 on a Thursday night and Chinese and foreign jazz fans descend on the JZ Club in Shanghai's former French Concession. Glasses clink and the splashing sound of cymbals ripple through a cabaret setting bathed in soft red light.

Andrew Field, an American historian, says clubs like JZ represent a return to Shanghai's cosmopolitan past.

China's economy isn't doing too well these days, but you wouldn't know it from the government's real estate transaction center in Shanghai's Baoshan district. Hundreds of people jam the office every day to put in paperwork for homes they've just purchased. The crowds are so loud and anxious that guards wearing white hardhats and wielding bullhorns patrol the lines to keep order.

Last summer, a Chinese-American woman and NPR listener reached out with an unusual request. She asked me to help find her sister, who'd vanished in the mountains of Yunnan province in southwest China.

"My little sister has been missing since Nov. 23, 2013," the woman wrote in an email. "She married a farmer in a remote village and was abused by her husband shortly after her marriage. She escaped from him after a few abuses."

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And this morning, we're listening to people who've been following the U.S. presidential election from afar, voices from around the world. Let's turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's based in Shanghai.

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It's halftime and the Warriors are leading the Nighthawks by a touchdown in the championship football game. Inside the locker room, wide receiver Chris Gardner from Minnesota urges everyone to stay cool.

"Do not sink to their level," Gardner says of the Warriors' crosstown rival. "They are losing. They are angry."

"They've got more injured players," says Owen Yan, the Warriors' 6-foot-3 defensive end. "They are more nervous than we are. Don't let them provoke you."

Men driving mountains of Styrofoam on the back of three-wheeled, motorized scooters are a common sight in Shanghai, but the one captured on this video is the biggest I or any of my friends have ever seen.

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Another surprising twist in the case of the missing Hong Kong booksellers. It started when five men involved in selling books critical of Chinese Communist Party leaders began disappearing last fall.

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A Hong Kong woman who suggested last week that her husband had been abducted by Chinese police has withdrawn her missing person's report.

The surprise move came after her husband, Lee Bo, who sold books critical of top Communist Party officials, vanished from Hong Kong last week.

Lee was the fifth person in the city connected to the publication of sensational books on top Chinese leaders to disappear since October, prompting speculation among democratic activists that Chinese security agents may have detained them.

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China is the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter and drives climate change more than any other country. As the world warms and seas rise, researchers say it stands to lose more heavily populated coastline as well.

Most Chinese, though, don't seem to see climate change as a current threat.

"I'm not really concerned because I think the distant future has little to do with me, because I'll already be dead," said a woman named Yu, who didn't want to give her full name in case government officials didn't like her comments.

Grave robbers in central China pilfered a cemetery in Henan province last week, stole ashes from several grave sites and held them hostage. The robbers ripped open tombs at the Hongshan Cemetery in Xinyan City, according to the news website ifeng.com, where they spirited away ash-filled urns and left notes with phone numbers.

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In a landmark moment, the presidents of China and Taiwan held an 80-second handshake ahead of a historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday.

The handshake marked the first time that the two sides of the Chinese Civil War have come together since the Communists won the war in 1949, forcing the losing Nationalists to begin running their government from Taipei.

"History has left us with many problems which we need to deal with practically," Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said following the hour-long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.

Traveling in China used to be fun, sometimes even relaxing. As recently as the late 1990s, you could go to a Tibetan monastery out west that your Chinese friends had never heard of, hang out with nomads and chat with monks. Crowds were rare.

Those days are mostly over. China's rapid economic rise means many people now have the money to travel. And that's a good thing. Chinese should get to know their country better.

The problem: There are just too many people.

A $5 billion business and financial district for the coal city of Luliang was scheduled to open next year. But today, the area, which was to house at least 300,000 people, remains mostly grass and cornfields. A few workers are trying to finish what would have been the district's main boulevard — which is now a road to nowhere.

What went wrong?

The mayor who pushed for this new district was fired for corruption — a common fate in Luliang — and the government ran out of money.

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