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.


The Two-Way
8:21 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 10:56 am

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

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5:15 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 8:53 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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1:18 pm
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 11:55 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
4:31 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 12:17 pm

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
5:10 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
11:23 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 8:25 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
11:40 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 1:06 pm

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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It's All Politics
1:56 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 2:21 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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NPR Story
6:11 am
Tue September 18, 2012

In China, Ex-Police Chief Waits For Trial Verdict

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:42 am



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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10:39 pm
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 9:52 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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Summer Nights: Funtown
4:59 pm
Wed August 22, 2012

Festive Nanjing Road Recaptures Shanghai's Heyday

The "Loving Happiness Band," supported, in part, by the Communist Party, plays for a crowd on Nanjing Road.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 8:34 pm

In the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was one of the world's most exciting — and notorious — cities. But all that came to an end in the middle of the last century, when the Communists took charge.

Over the past decade or so, though, a vibrant Shanghai has re-emerged. Today, it's a dynamic city of 23 million, with a skyline that dwarfs Manhattan's.

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5:42 pm
Wed August 8, 2012

Murder Trial Of Chinese Politician's Wife Set To Start

Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, will stand trial on charges related to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Here, the couple is shown in 2007 attending Bo's father's funeral.

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 7:35 pm

One of China's biggest criminal trials opens Thursday, and its lurid details make for a sort-of Communist Party film noir. The wife of an ambitious Chinese politician is accused of murdering a British businessman. Her powerful husband allegedly blocks the police investigation, and the police chief, fearing for his life, takes refuge in a U.S. consulate and implicates the wife in the killing.

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NPR Cities: Urban Life In The 21st Century
4:48 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Wu-Where? Opportunities Shift To China's New Cities

Wuhan's newest attraction is Han Street, a shopping complex that stretches several football fields, features fancy faux European architecture, and is filled with stores featuring foreign brands from Dairy Queen to Zara.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 9:00 pm

China became a majority urban country this year. No nation has shifted so quickly from rural to urban than China, where more than half of the people now live in urban areas.

Everyone is familiar with megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, but they are just a tiny part of China's urbanization story. The country has more than 160 cities with populations of a million or more — places most of the world is only vaguely familiar with, if at all.

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12:18 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

After A Forced Abortion, A Roaring Debate In China

Feng Jianmei and her husband could not pay $6,000 in fines for violating China's one-child policy. In June, when she was seven months pregnant, local officials abducted her and forced her to have an abortion, her family says. The case has provoked widespread outrage.
Quirky China News Rex Features

Originally published on Thu July 5, 2012 11:09 pm

Deng Jiyuan and Feng Jianmei, a couple from northwest China's Shaanxi province, have a 6-year-old daughter. Under China's complicated birth calculus, they were barred from having another child. But they tried anyway.

"We planned this pregnancy because our parents are old, they want us to have another child," Deng, 30, explained by cellphone last month from his home in Shaanxi.

That decision led to a sequence of events that has ignited a firestorm and renewed debate over the country's one-child policy.

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4:44 am
Fri June 15, 2012

China's Economy Cools, Perhaps More Than Planned

A Chinese worker operates a machine at a factory in Binzhou in northeast China's Shandong province. China's exports and imports shot up in May year-on-year, the customs agency said on June 10, defying expectations amid a slowdown in the world's second largest economy.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 11:14 am

In recent months, economic growth in China has not only slowed — it's slowed faster than most people expected. Last week, for the first time since the depths of the global financial crisis, the government actually cut lending rates to try to spur growth. All of this has people wondering: Where is the world's star economy headed?

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1:46 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Bankrupt At Home, Philly Orchestra Looks To China

The Philadelphia Orchestra, which declared bankruptcy last year, has been performing in China, where it is looking to develop new streams of revenue.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Thu June 7, 2012 8:17 pm

The Philadelphia Orchestra has just wrapped up a 10-day visit to China, its seventh trip to the country over the past four decades.

But this trip was different.

The orchestra is preparing to come out of bankruptcy, and this tour was about its survival. It hopes to balance its books by building new audiences and new revenues in the world's second-largest economy.

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3:16 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

China, Philippines Faceoff Over Remote Islands

For the past two months, the Philippines and China have been locked in a standoff over territory in the South China Sea that both countries claim.The Philippine navy accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally in the area. Protesters in the Philippines are shown here marching in Manila earlier this month.
Pat Roque AP

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 8:45 pm

Back in early April, a Philippine navy frigate tried to arrest Chinese fishermen accused of poaching sharks and giant clams.

But more is at stake than a boatload of seafood.

Neighboring countries say confrontations like this are growing as China asserts claims to territory well beyond its coastline. And analysts think China is testing America's resolve in the region.

Philippine officials say China still has more than 30 boats in the contested area, which is widely known as Scarborough Shoal, though the Chinese call it Huangyan Island.

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The Two-Way
8:56 am
Fri May 25, 2012

What A Show! China's Movie Theaters Have Improved Dramatically

Moviegoers at a 3D IMAX theater in Beijing.
Ng Han Guan AP

Originally published on Fri May 25, 2012 11:34 am

On Morning Edition, NPR's Frank Langfitt reported about a Chinese company's $2.6 billion purchase of North America's second-largest movie theater chain. Now, he tells us how the movie-going experience has changed in China in recent years:

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4:26 am
Fri May 25, 2012

Hollywood Dreams Led Chinese Firm To Buy Into U.S.

Moviegoers watch a 3-D IMAX movie at a Beijing theater run by the Chinese company Wanda, which recently announced it was buying AMC movie theaters for $2.6 billion. The move is seen as part of a larger effort by the Chinese conglomerate to move into the U.S. market.
Ng Han Guan AP

Originally published on Fri May 25, 2012 10:09 am

One of the big movie blockbusters this year isn't a film, but a business deal.

The Chinese company Wanda, one of that country's leading cinema owners, is buying AMC Entertainment, North America's second-largest movie theater company, for $2.6 billion.

When the agreement was announced in China this week, it did not make a lot of sense at first glance. At least for the buyer.

AMC is loaded with some $2 billion in debt, and movie theater attendance in North America was down 4 percent last year.

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Mongolia Booms
10:47 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Old Ways Disappearing In The New Mongolia

A baby Bactrian camel is tied up at the edge of the Badam family's small farmstead. Bactrian camels — like all Mongolian mammals — have thick fur to withstand the winters.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 9:57 pm

Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan and nomadic herders, is in the midst of a remarkable transition. Rich in coal, gold and copper, this country of fewer than 3 million people in Central Asia is riding a mineral boom that is expected to more than double its GDP within a decade. The rapid changes simultaneously excite and unnerve many Mongolians, who hope mining can help pull many out of poverty, but worry it will ravage the environment and further erode the nation's distinctive, nomadic identity.

Last of four parts

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3:21 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Mongolia's Dilemma: Who Gets The Water?

Amin-Erdene Galkhuu pumps well water to her family's Bactrian camels in Mongolia's South Gobi region. Herders and mining firms both need water in this arid area.
John Poole NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:47 am

Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan and nomadic herders, is in the midst of a remarkable transition. Rich in coal, gold and copper, this country of fewer than 3 million people in Central Asia is riding a mineral boom that is expected to more than double its GDP within a decade. The rapid changes simultaneously excite and unnerve many Mongolians, who hope mining can help pull many out of poverty, but worry it will ravage the environment and further erode the nation's distinctive, nomadic identity.

Second of four parts

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2:59 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Mineral-Rich Mongolia Rapidly Becoming 'Minegolia'

The mine at Oyu Tolgoi, Turquoise Hill in Mongolian, will be one of the world's largest copper mines in about five years. An employee holds up a small sample of the oxidized copper that gave the mine its name.
John W. Poole NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:47 am

Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan and nomadic herders, is in the midst of a remarkable transition. Rich in coal, gold and copper, this country of fewer than 3 million people in Central Asia is riding a mineral boom that is expected to more than double its GDP within a decade. The rapid changes simultaneously excite and unnerve many Mongolians, who hope mining can help pull many out of poverty, but worry it will ravage the environment and further erode the nation's distinctive, nomadic identity.

First of four parts

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4:37 am
Tue May 1, 2012

China Suppresses Coverage Of Two News Stories

Originally published on Tue May 1, 2012 10:05 am

Two stories out of China — the escape of a blind dissident from house arrest and the corruption scandal involving a top politician and his family — have attracted international attention. But inside China, the picture is different. The government has successfully suppressed the story about the dissident, Chen Guangcheng, such that most Chinese have never even heard of him. The Communist Party has waged a smear campaign against the fallen official, Bo Xilai, whom citizens see as a loser in a power struggle, a corrupt politician or both.

5:11 am
Tue April 24, 2012

GM To Add 600 Chinese Dealerships

Originally published on Tue April 24, 2012 8:29 pm



General Motors is making a bigger effort in what's become the world's biggest car market. At the Beijing Auto Show this week, GM said it plans to open 600 new dealerships in China this year. GM is trying to grow Chinese sales while they still can.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai.

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3:01 am
Wed April 4, 2012

'Shanghai': A Rom-Com Look At Americans In China

In Shanghai Calling, Chinese-American attorney Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) relocates from New York to Shanghai at the behest of his law firm. He develops a relationship with Amanda (Eliza Coupe), an expert on relocation and local customs and culture.
Americatown, LLC

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 2:47 pm

A growing number of American professionals have moved to China in the last decade to ride the economic boom. While much of the news coming out of the country is serious stuff — political repression, trade disputes, tainted food — for American expatriates, day-to-day life in China can be chaotic, exciting and often funny.

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12:01 am
Mon March 12, 2012

iPad Workers: Plant Inspected Hours Before Blast

Workers burned during an explosion at an Apple supplier factory in Shanghai are seen at a hospital where they are receiving continued treatment for their injuries. According to the factory, 24 workers were burned in the explosion.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 1:06 pm

Apple's new iPad goes on sale this Friday, the latest version of a wildly popular product from an iconic company. In the past couple of months, though, Apple has come under criticism for working conditions in Chinese factories that help build iPads.

A New York Times investigation focused on an explosion at an Apple supplier factory last May. In December, another explosion struck a different Apple supplier factory in Shanghai.

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3:36 am
Fri March 2, 2012

Looking For Elephant Ivory? Try China

A Malaysian customs official examines elephant tusks at a port in Kalang. Malaysia has become an ivory transit hub, with African elephant tusks bound for China. Worldwide, authorities seized more than 5,000 smuggled tusks.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri March 2, 2012 8:53 am

Armed with tips from animal welfare activists, I recently went on an ivory hunt with my Chinese assistant, Yang, in an antiques market in Beijing.

Activists say China's growing purchasing power is driving global demand for products from vulnerable animals, everything from elephant ivory to rhino horn.

Two huge stone lions stood sentinel outside the four-story market nestled among a forest of buildings off one of Beijing's beltways. In China, vendors usually accost shoppers and try to lure them into stores.

Not here.

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12:01 am
Thu February 9, 2012

China Laces Up Its Chuck Taylors

Chuck Taylor All Stars are common on the streets of Shanghai. Xuan Zhihui, 62, a retiree from a state-owned factory, wears her daughter's hand-me-down sneakers, which are 15 years old. She says they're really comfortable.
Frank Langfitt NPR

Stroll along a street in downtown Shanghai for very long, and you're likely to run into someone wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. One recent afternoon, Xu Jing was heading back from lunch to her job at an ad company in a pair of raspberry-colored Chuck Taylors.

"They have a young image, upbeat and outdoorsy, sporty," said Xu, 27, explaining the appeal. "Young people with an artistic sense prefer Converse."

Xu was accompanied by Chen Xiaolei, a co-worker who owns three pairs of Chuck Taylor high-tops.

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