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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National Security
3:30 am
Mon June 10, 2013

Confessed NSA Leaker Hole Up In Hong Kong Hotel

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 6:08 am

The Guardian has identified its source for a series of reports it published in recent days on secret U.S. surveillance activity. The paper says the source is Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA who now works for a private-sector defense and technology consulting firm.

The Two-Way
11:22 am
Tue June 4, 2013

Rubber Ducky, You're (Not) The One. Hong Kong Quacker Spawns Others

The original inflatable duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floats in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.
Li Peng Xinhua /Landov

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 2:39 pm

Perhaps it was inevitable. Given the huge popularity of the six-story, yellow rubber ducky that's been bobbing around in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, companies in a number of mainland Chinese cities have decided to copy it.

New ducks have popped up in the central city of Wuhan, the ancient city of Xi'an, the northern port city of Tianjin and Hengdian, a town in Zhejiang province that is home to a massive movie studio.

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The Two-Way
6:17 am
Mon June 3, 2013

More Than 100 Dead In China Poultry Plant Blaze

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, smoke rises from a poultry farm owned by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Jilin province on Monday.
Wang Haofei AP

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 7:42 am

A fire at a poultry processing plant fire in northeast China on Monday has killed at least 119 people, according to the Jilin province government. The blaze is one of the country's deadliest industrial accidents in recent years.

Flames broke out a little after 6 a.m. and the sprawling, low-slung plant filled with dark smoke, witnesses said. About 300 workers were inside the facility owned by the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Mishazi Township of Dehui City.

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Parallels
2:52 pm
Wed May 29, 2013

In China, Customer Service And Efficiency Begin To Blossom

A couple waits for a high-speed train in the Chinese city of Qinhuangdao. Modern infrastructure and the expanding private sector have greatly increased efficiency and customer service in many parts of Chinese life.
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 6:56 pm

China's infamous bureaucracy has bedeviled people for ages, but in recent years, daily life in some major Chinese cities has become far more efficient.

For instance, when I worked in Beijing in the 1990s, many reporters had drivers. It wasn't because they didn't drive, but because they needed someone to deal with China's crippling bureaucracy.

I had a man named Old Zhao, who would drive around for days to pay our office bills at various government utility offices. Zhao would sit in line for hours, often only to be abused by functionaries.

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Parallels
3:11 am
Fri May 24, 2013

China's Air Pollution: Is The Government Willing To Act?

Skyscrapers are obscured by heavy haze in Beijing on Jan. 13. Air pollution remains a serious — sometimes overwhelming — problem, but researchers say environmental technology is available to solve it.
Ng Han Guan AP

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 10:55 am

Denise Mauzerall arrived in Beijing this year at a time that was both horrifying and illuminating. The capital was facing some of its worst pollution in recent memory, and Mauzerall, a Princeton environmental engineering professor, was passing through on her way to a university forum on the future of cities.

"I took the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, and looking out the window for large sections of that trip, you couldn't see more than 20 feet," Mauzerall recalled.

To Mauzerall, the lesson was surprising and inescapable.

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Parallels
1:39 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

China Builds Museums ... But Will The Visitors Come?

One of the highlights of the new China Art Palace in Shanghai is a giant digital rendering of a famous ancient scroll, "Along the River During Qingming Festival," which includes figures that walk and talk. The work was first presented at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 4:43 pm

Shanghai did something last fall that few other cities on the planet could have even considered. It opened two massive art museums right across the river from one another on the same day.

The grand openings put an exclamation point on China's staggering museum building boom. In recent years, about 100 museums have opened annually here, peaking at nearly 400 in 2011, according to the Chinese Society of Museums.

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Parallels
2:05 pm
Mon May 13, 2013

Vietnam's Appetite For Rhino Horn Drives Poaching In Africa

A Vietnamese rhino horn user displays her horn, which was a gift from her well-to-do sister. Last year, rhino horn sold for up to $1,400 an ounce in Vietnam, about the price of gold these days.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 4:42 pm

Africa is facing a growing epidemic: the slaughter of rhinos.

So far this year, South Africa has lost more than 290 rhinos — an average of at least two a day. That puts the country on track to set yet another record after poachers killed 668 rhinos in 2012.

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The Salt
1:50 am
Wed May 8, 2013

Rat 'Mutton' And Bird Flu: Strange Days For Meat Eaters In Shanghai

A woman wearing a mask rides past a KFC restaurant in Shanghai last month. Food scares and the bird flu haven't stopped many chicken lovers in the city from visiting KFC and other restaurants.
Aly Song Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Thu May 9, 2013 10:43 am

The past couple of months have been unsettling ones for meat eaters in Shanghai.

In March, more than 16,000 dead pigs showed up in a stretch of the Huangpu River — a main source of the city's drinking water.

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Asia
2:25 am
Thu April 25, 2013

These Days, More And More Chinese Have Driven A Ford Lately

Ford, the No. 12 passenger-car seller in China, is showing off 23 vehicles at its exhibit at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition this week.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 1:46 am

General Motors has been the American car company in China. Even when GM was in bankruptcy, the Chinese continued to view Buick as a high-status, luxury brand.

But now Ford, an also-ran in the market for years, is making a push to change all that. Last year, Ford's sales were up more than 30 percent in China, and the Ford Focus was the best-selling car in both the world and China.

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Asia
9:13 am
Sun April 14, 2013

Will Lightning Strike Twice For K-Pop's PSY?

South Korean rapper PSY performs at his concert in Seoul, South Korea on Saturday.
Kin Cheung AP

Originally published on Sun April 14, 2013 6:03 pm

There was another big story on the Korean peninsula over the weekend, but it wasn't about the guy in the north with the missiles and the threats. No, this story was about the guy in the south with the shades and the goofy dance moves, South Korean K-Pop star PSY.

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Asia
2:41 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 7:33 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
12:19 pm
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 6:34 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
12:27 pm
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 9:08 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
3:33 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 8:42 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
11:41 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

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
4:04 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
2:20 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 8:59 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
12:50 pm
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 1:44 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
2:33 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 10:41 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
3:32 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 8:32 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
2:02 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 9:44 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
2:30 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 7:16 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
4:39 am
Thu January 10, 2013

China Investigates Foxconn For Bribery Allegations

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 2:04 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
5:06 am
Tue January 8, 2013

Editorial Ignites Freedom Of The Press Debate In China

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 6:47 am

A dispute over an editorial in a Chinese newspaper has widened into calls for more freedom of expression. Hundreds of people protested Monday calling for an open news media.

Asia
4:06 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 8:21 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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