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.

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.

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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:

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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

Staffers at Bloomberg News accused their own editors of spiking an investigative story to avoid the wrath of the Communist Party, and the wire service Reuters confirmed Chinese officials had denied a visa application for a hard-hitting reporter after an eight-month wait.

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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

Leaders of Asia-Pacific countries are wrapping up an economic summit in Indonesia. Much of the talk in the region over the weekend focused on the event's big no show: President Obama. Because of the partial government shutdown in the U.S., the president decided to stay at home and monitor developments.

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