Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe. Previously, Langfitt spent five years as an NPR correspondent covering China. Based in Shanghai, he drove a free taxi around the city for a series on a changing China as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. As part of the series, Langfitt drove passengers back to the countryside for Chinese New Year and served as a wedding chauffeur. He also helped a Chinese-American NPR listener hunt for her missing sister in the mountains of Yunnan province.

While in China, Langfitt also reported on the government'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 Shanghai, Langfitt was NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi. He reported from Sudan, covered the civil war in Somalia 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 NPR's labor correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covered the 2008 financial crisis, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler and coalmine disasters in West Virginia.

In 2008, Langfitt also 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.

Before coming to NPR, Langfitt spent five years as a correspondent in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun, covering a swath of Asia from East Timor to the Khyber Pass.

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. Prior to becoming a reporter, Langfitt dug latrines in Mexico and drove a taxi in his home town of Philadelphia. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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?

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.



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.

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.

When the Yangmingtan bridge opened in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin in November, local officials hailed it as a grand achievement.

The bridge stretched more than nine miles and cost nearly $300 million. Construction was supposed to take three years, but workers finished in half that time.

"A lot of comrades didn't go home for more than a year, never took a holiday, never took off a weekend," Yang Qingwei, the party secretary of a bridge construction company, proudly told Heilongjiang provincial TV.

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.

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.

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.

No country has enjoyed more spectacular growth in recent decades than China. But the economy that will one day replace America's as the world's largest also faces a lot of challenges. Guest host David Greene talks to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who was a reporter in China in the '90s and returned to Shanghai for NPR last year.

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.