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.



China's Communist Party had hoped a high profile corruption trial this week would send a message that the party punishes its own and operates under the rule of law. But so far, the trail of former Politburo member Bo Xilai hasn't quite worked out that way. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports on how China's biggest case in decades is toying with the expectations of the millions of people following the trial.

In China, recent Communist Party show trials have featured cowed defendants acknowledging their crimes and offering apologies. Not this one.

The country's biggest trial in decades kicked off Thursday with the defendant, former politburo member Bo Xilai, denying guilt, claiming his confession was coerced and branding the testimony of one of his accusers — in this case his wife — "laughable."

It's been about two months since college graduation, and more than 3 million graduates from this year and last still don't have jobs, according to government officials.

That's not in the U.S., but in China.

China is home to the world's fastest-growing major economy. But with nearly 7 million college graduates this year, a record number, finding work is tough and a worry for the ruling Communist Party.

Temperatures Wednesday in Shanghai hit an all-time high: 105.4 degrees, according to officials here. It was the hottest day in 140 years, since the government began keeping records.

The Chinese megacity is in the midst of its hottest summer ever.

Usually bustling streets are near empty at noon and thousands have gone to hospitals for relief. To get a feel for how people are handling the heat wave, I waded into a public pool in the city's Hankou district. By early afternoon, the temperature was 98 degrees in the shade, according to the thermometer I brought along.

Last week was a wild one for China's economy.

Interest rates on the loans that banks make to one another soared to alarming levels, and lending began to freeze up. Shanghai stocks nose-dived, taking Asian markets and the Dow, briefly, with them.

Things have calmed down, but the crisis showed how China's new leaders are trying to confront threats to the health of the world's second-largest economy.

Many here see it as the first shot in a long battle to reform a once-successful economic model that is now running out of gas.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government accused China's military of running a massive cyberspying campaign to steal business secrets from American companies.

"We've made it very clear to China and some other state actors that, you know, we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules," President Obama told ABC News in March.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Communist Party's new leadership has pledged to change China's slowing economy by putting a greater emphasis on private enterprise and reining in huge but far less profitable state-owned businesses. Economists say the party has no choice but to update if it wants to stay in power, but they doubt that a genuine overhaul is in the works.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.