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.

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.