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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Asia
12:15 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Police Finish Dismantling Hong Kong Protest Sites

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 4:14 pm

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

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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Asia
12:06 am
Tue November 18, 2014

Hong Kong Authorities Clear Area In Protest Zone

Originally published on Tue November 18, 2014 12:25 pm

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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The Two-Way
5:46 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 1:41 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
10:08 am
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 6:41 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
10:37 pm
Thu November 6, 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 11:27 am

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
5:01 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
2:33 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 8:58 am

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
6:47 am
Tue October 21, 2014

A Hong Kong Protest Camp Spawns Its Own Art

Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 7:56 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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Parallels
6:19 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 6:43 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
10:16 pm
Thu October 16, 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 9:37 am

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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Parallels
11:14 am
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 4:45 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
11:01 pm
Wed October 8, 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 5:26 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
11:22 am
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 4:45 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
9:31 am
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 2:31 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
12:46 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 8:50 am

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
4:55 am
Mon September 15, 2014

Chinese Teacher Is Busted After Demanding Gifts From Students

Originally published on Mon September 15, 2014 6:42 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
9:31 am
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 6:01 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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Goats and Soda
10:21 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

The Alibaba Effect: How China's eBay Transformed Village Economics

Handsome Zhang — that's his real name in Mandarin --€“ runs a shipping company, one of many supporting businesses spawned by East Wind village's furniture industry. The shipping business helped Zhang, 25, buy this Kia sports car.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Thu September 11, 2014 5:58 am

The Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba is poised this week for what could be one of the biggest IPOs in Wall Street history. One reason Alibaba has been so dominant in China is its business-to-consumer platform, Taobao, a sort of Chinese eBay.

Last year, Taobao and Alibaba's brand-name retail site, Tmall, drove nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in transactions.

Along the way, Taobao has even transformed village economies.

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Parallels
8:54 am
Mon September 8, 2014

From A Chinese Apartment To Wall Street Darling: The Rise Of Alibaba

Jack Ma speaks in Hangzhou, China, on May 10, 2013. Ma shot to fame as the founder of Alibaba, the pioneering Chinese e-commerce site that's poised to be one of the biggest tech IPOs ever when it goes public in New York.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon September 8, 2014 3:23 pm

Like most great origin stories, the tale behind China's e-commerce giant, Alibaba, begins simply. In the winter of 1999, Jack Ma, a former English teacher, gathered friends in an apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

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Parallels
12:38 am
Sun September 7, 2014

China Gets A Big Dose Of Fine Art Photography

Peikwen Cheng; Praying from the Lost and Found Series, 2010.
Peikwen Cheng Courtesy of MD Gallery

Originally published on Mon September 8, 2014 12:24 am

China's largest fair devoted to fine art photography opened in Shanghai this weekend. The first-time event is called Photo Shanghai and includes more than 500 works from photographers around the world.

One of the exhibits drawing a lot of Chinese visitors this weekend is by photographer Zhang Kechun. One of the most striking images features a Buddha head, about 40 feet high, sitting in the middle of an open pit coal mine.

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Asia
11:19 am
Wed September 3, 2014

Hong Kong's Drive For Open Elections Runs Low On Steam

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 2:04 pm

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

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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Parallels
1:40 am
Mon September 1, 2014

Why Did Crowd Flee Shanghai Subway After Foreigner Fainted?

A still from the surveillance camera footage shows the fainting man (top left and bottom right) lying alone in a subway car, as the few remaining occupants hurry away.
YouTube

Originally published on Tue September 2, 2014 5:59 am

One Saturday night this summer, a foreigner fainted and fell to the floor of a Shanghai subway car.

The passengers around him scattered. Not a single person tried to help.

When the train arrived at the next station, hundreds rushed out, nearly trampling each other.

The incident was captured on closed-circuit cameras. Tens of millions in China have now seen the images, which have rekindled a long-running debate among Chinese about their national character as well as trust and fear in modern society.

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Parallels
10:14 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Despite Crackdowns, China's President Rides A Wave Of Popularity

China's President Xi Jinping has launched a number of crackdowns since coming to power, like suppressing Internet speech. But his anti-corruption drive has made him widely popular among ordinary Chinese.
Jorge Silva Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 2:53 pm

Police shut down the Beijing Independent Film Festival over the weekend, detaining organizers and running off participants.

It's just the latest crackdown under China's President Xi Jinping. Since Xi took over last year, his administration has suppressed Internet speech, hammered the news media with even more censorship, and jailed people who have called for a system of checks and balances.

So, why do so many ordinary Chinese like the guy?

One big reason is his sustained attack on endemic corruption, perhaps the single greatest source of anger for most Chinese.

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Parallels
12:28 am
Sat August 23, 2014

China's Pollution Crisis Inspires An Unsettling Art Exhibit

This fishing boat draped with sick animals is the signature piece of The Ninth Wave, an exhibit by artist Cai Guo-Qiang that opened at Shanghai's Power Station of Art this month.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Sat August 23, 2014 6:48 am

When 16,000 dead pigs floated down a river in Shanghai last year, it inspired a lot of questions about China's environmental conditions and a lot of disgust.

Now, those pigs have helped inspire an arresting exhibit at Shanghai's contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.

The solo show, called The Ninth Wave, opened this month and features the work of a top, Chinese contemporary artist, Cai Guo-Qiang. His installations are grand, provocative and unsettling.

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Parallels
10:32 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

What Happens When A Beijing Man Invites Women Into His Lamborghini?

A Lamborghini sports car at the 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in April. A young Chinese man recently asked women on the street if they wanted to take a ride with him in his Lamborghini, and filmed the encounters.
Lintao Zhang Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 7:19 am

Earlier this summer, a man drove around one of Beijing's nightlife districts trolling for women in an $800,000 Lamborghini convertible. At one point, according to hidden-camera video, he pulled up to a woman wearing a black skirt.

"Beautiful woman," he said, "are you alone? Is it convenient to go eat something together?"

"OK," answered the woman, who promptly climbed in, no questions asked.

"You got in my car. Aren't you afraid I'm a bad guy?" the driver said.

"You ought to be a good person," the woman answered.

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Asia
12:28 am
Thu July 10, 2014

China's Booming Real Estate Market Finally Begins To Slide

Villas in a luxury compound in Wuxi, in China's eastern Jiangsu province, sit empty after a year while more apartment blocks rise in the distance.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 6:38 am

After years of stunning growth, China's go-go real estate market is now in retreat.

Prices fell last month in 79 out of 100 cities, according to the China Real Estate Index run by SouFun Holdings, a real estate website. Land sales dropped nearly 30 percent this spring from a year earlier.

Real estate has been one of the engines driving the world's second-largest economy, which is why economists in China and around the world are watching the market closely these days.

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Asia
10:33 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

Beijing: From Hardship Post To Plum Assignment And Back Again

A woman wearing face protection walks across a street during a hazy day in Beijing on March 27. Worsening air pollution is fueling a slow exodus of expatriates from the Chinese capital.
Petar Kujundzic Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 4:48 am

As Beijing's notorious air pollution continues to take a toll on people's health, it's also making it much harder for foreign firms to attract staff there these days. Some companies are now offering more money, more vacation and shorter stints to lure people to China's capital. What was once a plum assignment for expatriates is increasingly seen as a hardship post.

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Parallels
1:16 am
Mon June 16, 2014

A Chinese Chemical Company And A 'Bath Salts' Epidemic

An empty lab used by China Enriching Chemistry, which was accused of shipping illegal drugs to the U.S. Eric Chang, the company's director, is currently in jail in China, where he was charged with producing ecstasy.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Mon June 16, 2014 5:16 am

There were times a few years back when the emergency room at SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse looked like a scene from a zombie movie. Dr. Ross Sullivan, a physician there, recalls one afternoon when staff wheeled in a man with dilated pupils who was covered in sweat.

"The patient was screaming obscenities, and anybody he would pass, he was threatening and saying he was going to kill them," Sullivan recalls.

Police suspected the patient had taken "bath salts," the notorious synthetic stimulants that were ravaging scores of American communities at the time.

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Parallels
10:26 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

As Myanmar Modernizes, Architectural Gems Are Endangered

At the center of Yangon, the city's colonial heritage, Buddhist faith and emerging modern face are visible in a single block.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 6:08 am

Decades of socialism and military rule kept Myanmar — or Burma, as it was known — poor and isolated.

There was one upside, though. The economy was so lousy, there was no drive to demolish the big British colonial buildings in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, and replace them with the glass and steel towers that now define much of the skylines in East Asia.

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Asia
1:19 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Terror Attacks In China Take An Alarming Turn

Smoke rises from Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 28, when three Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, drove a jeep into a crowd there, killing two tourists. The people inside the car died as well, after they set their vehicle on fire.
STR Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 2:39 pm

China has suffered small-scale terror attacks in the past that often targeted local government in out-of-the-way cities. In the past year, though, the attacks have taken an alarming turn.

Ethnic militants have gone after civilians outside their homeland and employed a relatively new tactic: suicide.

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