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.

I first met Tess Johnston in the late 1990s in a yellow, stucco apartment building where she lived in Shanghai's former French Concession. As was her habit, she dropped the key from her third-floor window and I let myself in.

Her drafty apartment was crammed with books and street maps. Over tea, Johnston, then in her late 60s, regaled me with her latest adventures, rushing through the city's back alleys to photograph old European-style villas before they succumbed to sledge hammers.

It's 9:30 on a Thursday night and Chinese and foreign jazz fans descend on the JZ Club in Shanghai's former French Concession. Glasses clink and the splashing sound of cymbals ripple through a cabaret setting bathed in soft red light.

Andrew Field, an American historian, says clubs like JZ represent a return to Shanghai's cosmopolitan past.

China's economy isn't doing too well these days, but you wouldn't know it from the government's real estate transaction center in Shanghai's Baoshan district. Hundreds of people jam the office every day to put in paperwork for homes they've just purchased. The crowds are so loud and anxious that guards wearing white hardhats and wielding bullhorns patrol the lines to keep order.

Last summer, a Chinese-American woman and NPR listener reached out with an unusual request. She asked me to help find her sister, who'd vanished in the mountains of Yunnan province in southwest China.

"My little sister has been missing since Nov. 23, 2013," the woman wrote in an email. "She married a farmer in a remote village and was abused by her husband shortly after her marriage. She escaped from him after a few abuses."

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And this morning, we're listening to people who've been following the U.S. presidential election from afar, voices from around the world. Let's turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's based in Shanghai.

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Men driving mountains of Styrofoam on the back of three-wheeled, motorized scooters are a common sight in Shanghai, but the one captured on this video is the biggest I or any of my friends have ever seen.

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China is the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter and drives climate change more than any other country. As the world warms and seas rise, researchers say it stands to lose more heavily populated coastline as well.

Most Chinese, though, don't seem to see climate change as a current threat.

"I'm not really concerned because I think the distant future has little to do with me, because I'll already be dead," said a woman named Yu, who didn't want to give her full name in case government officials didn't like her comments.

Grave robbers in central China pilfered a cemetery in Henan province last week, stole ashes from several grave sites and held them hostage. The robbers ripped open tombs at the Hongshan Cemetery in Xinyan City, according to the news website ifeng.com, where they spirited away ash-filled urns and left notes with phone numbers.

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In a landmark moment, the presidents of China and Taiwan held an 80-second handshake ahead of a historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday.

The handshake marked the first time that the two sides of the Chinese Civil War have come together since the Communists won the war in 1949, forcing the losing Nationalists to begin running their government from Taipei.

"History has left us with many problems which we need to deal with practically," Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said following the hour-long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.

Traveling in China used to be fun, sometimes even relaxing. As recently as the late 1990s, you could go to a Tibetan monastery out west that your Chinese friends had never heard of, hang out with nomads and chat with monks. Crowds were rare.

Those days are mostly over. China's rapid economic rise means many people now have the money to travel. And that's a good thing. Chinese should get to know their country better.

The problem: There are just too many people.

A $5 billion business and financial district for the coal city of Luliang was scheduled to open next year. But today, the area, which was to house at least 300,000 people, remains mostly grass and cornfields. A few workers are trying to finish what would have been the district's main boulevard — which is now a road to nowhere.

What went wrong?

The mayor who pushed for this new district was fired for corruption — a common fate in Luliang — and the government ran out of money.

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After a huge drop in the past couple of weeks, Shanghai stocks rose Friday for the second day in a row.

For many, that's a relief. But China's economy has a long way to go. In fact, it's in the midst of wrenching transition from an economy based on investment and manufacturing to a higher-income one built on services and consumer spending.

The stakes are high — not just for China, but for the rest of the world.

Economic growth is slowing in China in a way it hasn't in a long time.

Inside Shanghai's cavernous Yuz Museum, there's a two-story metal box.
And inside that box: a fire hose dangling from a chain.

Every hour, the hose fills with water and dances about, spraying in a frenzy for just one minute.

"It's like a Chinese dragon," says Karen Cong, who's 25 and works in digital advertising.

Private museums like the Yuz are sprouting up along the riverfront in Shanghai, part of a government plan to build a Museum Mile on the waterfront and help turn China's financial hub into a cultural capital as well.

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NPR's Frank Langfitt has covered China for nearly a decade. After reporting on the Aug. 12 explosion in Tianjin that killed more than 100 people, he offered this commentary.

There's a moment when you're covering a disaster in China when you know what happened.

You know it wasn't an accident, as the government initially says.

You know someone did something awful that put lives at risk to make money.

For me, that moment came when I was sitting in the hallway of a Tianjin middle school.

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To make sense of the international reaction and China's motives for what it's doing with the yuan, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai. And first, Frank, why are markets around the world reacting so negatively to this?

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