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
1:15 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

A Symbol Of Korean Cooperation Becomes A Political Casualty

A South Korean soldier patrols as vehicles returning from the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea arrive at a checkpoint in Paju, north of Seoul, on April 6.
Lee Jae-Won Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 6:33 pm

This week, North Korea closed off the last avenue of economic cooperation with its rival, South Korea. Pyongyang says the closing of Kaesong — a joint North-South industrial complex — is temporary.

But the move is a big symbolic blow on the Korean peninsula and a potential disaster for some of the South Korean businesses that have invested there.

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The Two-Way
11:03 am
Tue April 9, 2013

A View From South Korea: The North Is 'A Playground Bully'

Carrying on as usual: Shoppers in central Seoul on Monday.
Lee Jae-Won Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Tue April 9, 2013 5:34 pm

Nearly two decades ago, a North Korean official threatened to turn Seoul into a "Sea of Fire." South Koreans responded by cleaning out the shelves of supermarkets and preparing for an attack that never came.

On Tuesday, North Korea urged tourists and foreign companies to leave South Korea for their own safety, saying the two countries are on the eve of a nuclear war.

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The Salt
11:27 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Shanghai's Dead Pigs: Search For Answers Turns Up Denials

Villagers gather dead pigs in Jiaxing, in eastern China's Zhejiang province, on Wednesday. The number of dead pigs found in Shanghai's main river had doubled in two days to more than 6,000, the government said.
AFP AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 8:08 pm

More than a week has passed since thousands of dead pigs were first discovered floating in a river in Shanghai, but authorities have yet to explain fully where the pigs came from or why they died.

Fourteen of the pigs had tags in their ears identifying them as coming from Jiaxing city, in neighboring Zhejiang province. Getting to the bottom of the pig story, though, is tough. A visit to Zhulin village, where most everyone raises pigs, was greeted by serial denials.

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Asia
2:59 pm
Thu March 7, 2013

Young Chinese Translate America, One Show At A Time

The Newsroom, starring Jeff Daniels, is one of the most popular American TV series in China. It's a favorite among a cadre of young, informal translators who see it as a way to challenge conventional Chinese thinking.

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 7:42 pm

Every week, thousands of young Chinese gather online to translate popular American movies and TV shows into Mandarin. Some do it for fun and to help people learn English, while others see it as a subtle way to introduce new ideas into Chinese society.

Among the more popular American TV shows on China's Internet these days is HBO's The Newsroom. One reason is an exchange between a college student and a news anchor played by Jeff Daniels. The young woman asks the aging newsman why the United States is the greatest country in the world.

The anchor explodes.

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The Two-Way
9:47 am
Wed March 6, 2013

How To Sneak Into A Chinese Village When Police Don't Want You There

When residents of the southern Chinese village of Shangpu staged an uprising, police set up a roadblock on the main road to keep outsiders away, including reporters. Here, a policeman mans the roadblock on Saturday.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 6, 2013 10:41 am

On occasion my job requires me to sneak into a Chinese village as I did earlier this week to report a story on a rural uprising. This does not come naturally. I'm 6-foot-2 with gray hair and blue eyes and don't look remotely like a Chinese farmer.

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The Two-Way
3:04 am
Sun February 24, 2013

In China, Not Everything Has Changed

Shen Lixiu, 58, says she had her front teeth kicked out in a re-education through labor camp. Chinese authorities say they are considering "reforms" to a system that is coming under increasing public criticism.
Frank Langfitt NPR

A lot of journalism about China focuses on the country's rapid and stunning changes, but equally telling are the things that stay the same. I did my first story on China's re-education through labor camps back in 2001.

I met a former inmate named Liu Xiaobo for lunch in Beijing. Liu, soft-spoken and thoughtful, had written an article mourning those who had died in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. He had also called for democracy.

So, one day, police took him from his house and charged him with "slandering the Communist Party" and "disrupting social order."

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Asia
1:20 am
Fri February 22, 2013

Ex-Inmates Speak Out About Labor Camps As China Considers 'Reforms'

Some former prisoners of re-education through labor camps and their supporters hold signs in Beijing declaring, "No Re-education Through Labor." Popular opposition to the camps has grown as China's state-run media has highlighted particularly egregious cases.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 7:59 pm

Shen Lixiu's story is numbingly familiar.

Officials in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing knocked down her karaoke parlor for development. She says they then offered her compensation that was less than 20 percent of what she had invested in the place.

Shen complained to the central government. Local authorities responded by sentencing her to a "re-education through labor" camp for a year. Once inside, Shen says, camp workers tried to force her to accept the compensation.

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The Two-Way
11:50 am
Tue February 19, 2013

A Chinese Army Outpost That's Tucked Into Modern Shanghai

This 12-story building houses a Chinese military unit allegedly behind dozens of cyberattacks on U.S. and other Western companies. It's in a modern, if bland, part of Shanghai.
Peter Parks AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 12:44 pm

Some people in Shanghai — especially the foreigners — think the city's new Pudong section of town is dull, without character and profoundly unfashionable.

Twenty years ago, Pudong was mostly farms and warehouses. Today, it's home to those sleek glass-and-steel skyscrapers that have come to define the city's skyline in movies like Skyfall and Mission: Impossible III.

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Asia
1:33 am
Mon February 11, 2013

Auntie Anne's Pretzels In Beijing: Why The Chinese Didn't Bite

The China Twist by Wen-Szu Lin chronicles the author's (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to bring Auntie Anne's pretzels to China.
Courtesy

Originally published on Mon February 11, 2013 9:41 am

The lure of the China market is legendary. The dream: Sell something to 1.3 billion people, and you're set.

The reality is totally different.

Ask the MBAs from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who tried to launch Auntie Anne's pretzels in China. The result is a funny, instructive and occasionally harrowing journey that is now the subject of a new book, The China Twist.

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Asia
3:08 pm
Thu February 7, 2013

Move Over James Bond, China Has An Unlikely Box Office Champ

The surprise hit Lost in Thailand, a road comedy that cost less than $5 million to make, has become China's highest-grossing domestic film.
Enlight Pictures

Originally published on Fri February 8, 2013 7:32 am

Movies are big business in China, and 2012 was another record year: Theaters raked in about $2.7 billion, pushing China past Japan to become the world's second-largest market.

Those blistering sales were expected; China's ultimate box-office champ, however, was not.

Hollywood blockbusters usually do well in China. And last year, competition was stiff, including a new installment of Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise, as well as Skyfall, the latest James Bond flick.

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Asia
1:02 am
Wed January 30, 2013

In China, The Government Isn't The Only Spy Game In Town

A man sells surveillance cameras at the main electronics market in Tienhe district, Guangzhou, in southern China's Guangdong province, on Aug. 8.
EPA /Landov

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 8:44 am

The final of two reports

It all started with a local Chinese official.

He couldn't figure out how his wife, who suspected him of having an affair, knew the contents of his private conversations.

"His wife knew things that he said in his car and office, including conversations over the telephone," recalls Qi Hong, a former journalist from Shandong province in eastern China, and a friend of the official.

So Qi asked a buddy who owned bug-detecting equipment to help.

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Asia
1:30 am
Tue January 29, 2013

In China, Beware: A Camera May Be Watching You

The use of security cameras such as these, looking out over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, is on the rise in China. Critics say the government is using them to discourage dissidents.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 6:16 pm

The first of two reports

China is becoming a surveillance state. In recent years, the government has installed more than 20 million cameras across a country where a decade ago there weren't many.

Today, in Chinese cities, cameras are everywhere: on highways, in public parks, on balconies, in elevators, in taxis, even in the stands at sporting events.

Officials say the cameras help combat crime and maintain "social stability" — a euphemism for shutting up critics.

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NPR Story
3:39 am
Thu January 10, 2013

China Investigates Foxconn For Bribery Allegations

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 1:04 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there's more trouble for Foxconn, the electronics giant which makes Apple products in China. The company is acknowledging that Chinese police are looking into allegations that Foxconn employees took bribes from parts suppliers.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai.

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Asia
2:51 pm
Fri December 21, 2012

Japan's Economic Woes Offer Lessons To U.S.

Japan's economy has been struggling for two decades and faces some of the same problems the U.S. has. Here, a man in Tokyo passes an electronic board displaying falling global markets.
Yuriko Nakao Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Fri December 21, 2012 7:21 pm

In the 1980s, Japan appeared to be a world beater — the China of its day. Japanese companies were on a tear, buying up firms in the U.S. and property around the world.

But these days, Japan is considered a cautionary tale for post-industrial economies around the world. The country is facing its fourth recession in what are commonly known as the "lost decades."

Japan's story resonates this holiday season as American politicians try to reach a debt deal.

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NPR Story
3:17 am
Mon December 17, 2012

Japanese Voters Return Conservatives To Power

Shinzo Abe of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party marks the name of a parliamentary election winner at party headquarters in Tokyo on Sunday. Japan's conservative LDP stormed back to power Sunday after three years in opposition.
Junji Kurokawa AP

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 1:49 pm

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party won resoundingly in parliamentary elections Sunday that both Washington and Beijing were watching carefully. The conservative LDP's hawkish leader, Shinzo Abe, will become Japan's prime minister for the second time and has pledged to take a harder line on China.

Speaking on Japanese TV, Abe had a message for Japan's most important ally, America, and another for Japan's biggest rival — China.

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Asia
2:40 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

Nationalist Rhetoric High As Japanese Head To Polls

Supporters hold up posters of Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a rally in Osaka on Thursday. Considered a nationalist hawk, Abe is expected to become prime minister for a second time after parliamentary elections Sunday.
Buddhika Weerasinghe Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 8:27 am

As Japanese head to the polls Sunday, Shinzo Abe is expected to become Japan's prime minister for the second time.

The election takes place as nationalistic rhetoric is on the rise, and while the country remains locked in a bitter dispute with its chief rival, China, over islands both countries claim.

'Pride And Honor'

The battle over the islands heated up last summer.

In mid-August, boats filled with about 150 Japanese activists approached one of the islands, part of a chain that the Japanese call Senkaku; the Chinese, Diaoyu.

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Asia
1:24 am
Thu December 13, 2012

A Rare Visit Inside A Chinese Courtroom

An NPR reporter recently was allowed to watch legal proceedings at Hongkou District Court — a rare opportunity for a foreign correspondent in Shanghai.
Courtesy of Hongkou District Court

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 7:03 am

After years of covering China, I finally set foot in a Chinese courtroom last week. Foreign reporters need government permission to enter Chinese courts and past attempts had gone nowhere.

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The Two-Way
6:21 am
Wed November 28, 2012

OK, North Korea's Leader Isn't 'Sexiest Man Alive,' Chinese Media Concede

Before it disappeared from the Web: Here's how People's Daily Online packaged its coverage of the "news" that Kim Jong Un is 2012's sexiest man.
People's Daily Online (frame grab of a page that has now been removed)

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 8:56 am

NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt sends in an update on one of this week's more amusing stories:

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Asia
3:15 am
Tue November 27, 2012

How Ordinary Chinese Are Talking And Fighting Back

Authorities in Hunan province sentenced Tang Hui to 18 months in a re-education-through-labor camp after she repeatedly complained about the way police investigated the case of her daughter's kidnapping and forced prostitution. An uproar on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, pushed authorities to free Tang days later.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 6:53 pm

Never have so many Chinese people spoken so freely than on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. Just 4 years old, the series of microblog services now has more than 400 million users.

And, increasingly, Chinese are using it to expose corruption, criticize officials and try to make their country a better place — even as China's Communist Party tries to control the Weibo revolution.

Were it not for Weibo, you would never know Tang Hui's extraordinary story. She wouldn't be free to tell it; she'd be sitting in a Chinese re-education-through-labor camp eating porridge.

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Asia
11:18 am
Thu November 15, 2012

In Rural China, New Leaders Aren't Familiar Faces

Wang Heying, 64, supports the new Communist leaders, even if she can barely name them. She says government policies have led street lamps, bigger houses and a TV in every home.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 9:55 am

An elderly couple is winnowing rice in the front yard of their home in the tiny village of Dongjianggai, about 200 miles northwest of Shanghai. They've just watched China's incoming leaders — including Xi Jinping, the new general secretary of the Communist Party — appear for the first time on national TV.

"We don't know them," the husband, Wu Beiling, says. "Xi Jinping was just unveiled. I'm not very familiar with the rest of the members."

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The Picture Show
1:28 pm
Fri November 9, 2012

The Art Of Chinese Propaganda

"Beloved Chairman Mao, we are loyal to you forever." 1967
Courtesy of the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 10:17 am

The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center lies buried in an unmarked apartment building off the tree-lined streets of the city's former French Concession. There are no signs. You have to wend your way through apartment blocks, down a staircase and into a basement to discover one of Shanghai's most obscure and remarkable museums.

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The Two-Way
3:10 am
Sun November 4, 2012

Can China's Legal System Change?

Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese lawyer, made international headlines when he escaped house arrest in April. Now at New York University, he believes changes to China's legal system are inevitable.
Frank Langfitt NPR

China's Communist Party will introduce a new slate of leaders this month to run the world's most populous country for at least the next five years. Their to-do list will include dealing with the nation's opaque and politicized court system.

"China's judicial system urgently needs to be reformed, improved and developed," a government planning paper acknowledged last month.

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China: Change Or Crisis
9:23 am
Thu November 1, 2012

For Complainers, A Stint In China's 'Black Jails'

A man walks through a former unofficial, or "black," jail in Beijing, in 2009. It's estimated that thousands of Chinese lodging protests against the government are illegally detained in secret sites such as this one, even though the government says they don't exist.
Elizabeth Dalziel AP

Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:25 pm

People often say China is a nation of contrasts: of wealth and poverty, of personal freedom and political limits. But that observation doesn't begin to capture the tensions and incongruities of modern life here.

For instance, in today's Shanghai, you can sip a $31 champagne cocktail in a sleek rooftop bar overlooking the city's spectacular skyline, while, just a few miles away, ordinary citizens languish in a secret detention center run by government-paid thugs.

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China: Change Or Crisis
9:33 am
Wed October 31, 2012

As Economy Slows, China Looks For A New Model

China's rapid expansion has been fueled in part by massive construction projects, like this one in Beijing, shown last year. But many economists say the Chinese economic model is unlikely to produce the same explosive growth in the coming years and needs to be revamped.
Lintao Zhang Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 11:06 am

If you followed American media in recent years, you might have thought China was taking over the planet. Recent titles at the book store have included Becoming China's Bitch and When China Rules the World.

"They are the world's superpower or soon will be," Glenn Beck used to intone on Fox News. "They always thought America was just a blip."

And when the city of Philadelphia postponed an Eagles football game a couple of years ago because of a blizzard forecast, then-Gov. Ed Rendell said America — unlike China — was becoming a nation of "wussies."

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Asia
4:21 am
Sun October 28, 2012

With Barbs, Author Becomes Literary Star In China

Blogger and race car driver Han Han doesn't shy away from skewering Chinese government and society.
Robert Cianflone Getty Images

Originally published on Sun October 28, 2012 5:41 pm

Not so long ago, many Chinese commentators wrote in a cautious, oblique style designed not to offend the nation's famously humorless leaders — then came the Internet, blogs and a cheeky young man named Han Han.

The voice of China's post-'80s generation, Han is ironic, skeptical and blunt — writing what many young Chinese think but dare not say publicly.

Now 30 years old, Han has boy-band good looks, drives race cars and has 8 million followers on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

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Asia
6:11 am
Mon October 22, 2012

America's Asian Allies Question Its Staying Power

Originally published on Mon October 22, 2012 6:16 pm

In Monday's presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama and Mitt Romney will spar over China, covering everything from free trade to cyberattacks. But another topic — one that might not come up — is of growing concern: tensions in the waters off China itself.

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It's All Politics
12:13 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

A Watch Party In China For The U.S. Presidential Debate

The Shanghai skyline
Feng Li Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 12:21 pm

Gathering voters to watch a presidential debate and then evaluate it is a long tradition in American journalism. So, I got to thinking: What would happen if I invited a bunch of interested foreigners — all of them Chinese citizens — to watch the presidential debate from my Shanghai office?

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Asia
1:21 am
Tue September 25, 2012

Americans In China Feel Pinch Of Shifting Economies

China has welcomed U.S. business expertise for many years as its economy has advanced rapidly. Jim Rogers, a prominent U.S. investor, is shown here in China at the 2nd Hunan Finance Expo in 2011. However, the Chinese are becoming more confident in their own business skills and more critical of American practices in recent years, according to U.S. business executives working in China.
ChinaFotoPress Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 10:00 am

In recent years, China's status — like its economy — has continued to rise as the economies in America and Europe have struggled.

That shift isn't just reflected in economic numbers, and some American business people in China say they don't feel as respected or as valued as before.

Not long after Michael Fagle arrived in Shanghai in 2005 with DuPont, he went to visit a Chinese customer. Back then, Fagle says, he was treated as a sage from the West.

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NPR Story
4:11 am
Tue September 18, 2012

In China, Ex-Police Chief Waits For Trial Verdict

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 5:42 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The trial of the former police chief who ignited the worst political scandal in China in decades wrapped up today. Wang Lijun is accused of trying to defect to the U.S. and covering up a murder involving the wife of a one-time powerful Communist Party official. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following the trial from Shanghai.

And first, Frank, remind us what this case is all about.

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Africa
4:20 am
Sun September 16, 2012

Rwanda's Economy: An Unlikely Success Story

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame at the International Fund for Agricultural Development headquarters in Rome in February. Changes in agriculture have been part of the country's economic growth.
Tiziana Fabi AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:52 am

East Africa is a tough place to do business. Want to open shop in Kenya? Prepare for a month of paper work, surly officials and bribes. To the west, in Rwanda, it's a different story.

"Registering a business takes just a matter of hours. It no longer takes months, weeks, as it used to be," says Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

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