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 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.

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?

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.

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.

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:

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.

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

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.

Third of four parts

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

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

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.

The Beijing auto show runs this week in what is now the world's largest car market, and a crucial one for Detroit companies.

General Motors just announced it will open 600 more dealerships in China, where it sells more cars than it does in the U.S. Last week, Ford announced construction of its fourth Chinese assembly plant.

For longtime American auto executives in China, witnessing the shift in the global auto industry is dramatic.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

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.

To say that people in China eat dogs is something of a stereotype.

Sure, some still do, but these days, more and more Chinese are buying dogs as pets and treating them like beloved family members.

In the last year, that growing affection has taken a radical turn. Activists have begun stopping trucks along the highway carrying dogs to slaughter and then negotiating their release.

A Last-Minute Rescue

Chinese cartoonists have used the Internet in recent years to take aim at the Communist Party. Using Twitter-like microblogs, they try to slip past censors and skewer their government in ways that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

One of their targets this month is an old-fashioned Communist propaganda campaign extolling the virtues of Lei Feng, a model People's Liberation Army soldier who was devoted to his fellow workers and China's leaders — and who has been dead for half a century.

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.

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.

How do you say "Linsanity" in Chinese? Lin Shuhao feng.

And how do you quantify it? Jeremy Lin has more than a million followers so far on the Chinese version of Twitter.

The legend of Lin, the Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks whose success story draws comparisons to a fairy tale, continues to grow. On Tuesday night, he scored 27 points, including the winning shot, in the Knicks' victory over the Toronto Raptors.

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.

During China's Lunar New Year holiday, more than 200 million people will travel home. It's the world's largest annual migration, and every year, Chinese tell horror stories about trying to get train tickets.

This season, the holiday falls on Monday, and it was supposed to be different: For the first time, China's rail ministry created a website to reserve seats. But things didn't work out as planned.

Last fall, wealthy Chinese gathered at a Beijing hotel to hear a pitch by Patrick Quinn, the governor of Illinois. He wanted them to invest in a convention center project at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

"You can't have capitalism without capital," Quinn said to the group of potential investors. "So we really are interested in encouraging people from everywhere, particularly here in China ... to consider the state of Illinois as a place to make investments."

The required minimum investment: half a million dollars.

The Da Vinci furniture company showroom in Shanghai looks like a salon in Versailles. The price tag on a gilt-covered, Italian-made grandfather clock: more than $40,000.

So it was big news last summer when China Central Television — the government's flagship network known as CCTV — reported that some of Da Vinci's ornate furniture didn't come from Italy, but from a common factory in South China.

Chinese leaders made a rare condolence visit to North Korea's embassy in Beijing last month.

Broadcast on China Central Television, the leaders – dressed in black suits — bowed in unison towards the portrait of Kim Jong Il. Why show so much respect to a man who caused so much misery?

One reason: fear of something worse.

In recent years, China's real estate market has boomed. A three-bedroom apartment in Shanghai overlooking the river would cost more than $3 million. But that's beginning to change. The slide comes as the world's most dynamic economy grapples with other challenges, including massive local government debt and slowing growth.

As the U.S. and Europe have struggled with debt, China has seemed to be largely immune. This fall, the European Union even asked China for financial help, but China has a debt problem of its own.

Over the past several years, local governments have run up at least $1.5 trillion in bank loans for infrastructure projects intended to prop up the nation's economic growth. Analysts think much of that money will never be repaid.

China has made a fortune producing cheap products that sell for low prices around the world.

Yet many high-end goods manufactured in China –- everything from iPads to Coach bags — actually cost more in China than they do in the United States.

To figure out why, I recently visited a luxury shopping mall in Beijing with Professor Nie Huihua, who teaches economics at the People's University.

The Chinese government slapped artist Ai Weiwei — one of China's most famous dissidents — with a $2.4 million tax bill last week. The move was widely seen as punishment for Ai's relentless criticism of the Communist Party.

Since then, in an outpouring of support rarely seen for a government critic, thousands of people have loaned Ai nearly $1 million to help pay the fine.

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