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.

There were times a few years back when the emergency room at SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse looked like a scene from a zombie movie. Dr. Ross Sullivan, a physician there, recalls one afternoon when staff wheeled in a man with dilated pupils who was covered in sweat.

"The patient was screaming obscenities, and anybody he would pass, he was threatening and saying he was going to kill them," Sullivan recalls.

Police suspected the patient had taken "bath salts," the notorious synthetic stimulants that were ravaging scores of American communities at the time.

Decades of socialism and military rule kept Myanmar — or Burma, as it was known — poor and isolated.

There was one upside, though. The economy was so lousy, there was no drive to demolish the big British colonial buildings in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, and replace them with the glass and steel towers that now define much of the skylines in East Asia.

China has suffered small-scale terror attacks in the past that often targeted local government in out-of-the-way cities. In the past year, though, the attacks have taken an alarming turn.

Ethnic militants have gone after civilians outside their homeland and employed a relatively new tactic: suicide.

Prisoner 1741 spent more than seven months inside a jail in southern China, assembling Christmas lights for export to America. Work days stretched up to 10 hours and conditions were tough, he says. One boss used strands of Christmas lights to whip workers and drive production.

Stories about forced labor have trickled out of China over the years, but what makes Prisoner 1741's so remarkable is that he isn't Chinese. He's American. In fact, he's a middle-aged, American sociology professor from South Carolina.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

China came up yesterday when we interviewed President Obama. The president recently visited neighbors of China, including U.S. allies. The Chinese have confronted several of their neighbors in disputes over territory, which raised a question for the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

INSKEEP: Does the United States have an interest beyond its specific alliances in preventing China from dominating East Asia and the waters around East Asia, where China's been making some aggressive moves?

When people turn out to mourn the loss of loved ones, local authorities in most places treat them with respect. Not in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi last week, where 39 people were killed in a terrorist attack the government attributed to Uighers, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Men driving SUVs plowed into a crowded vegetable market in China yesterday and threw explosive devices out of their vehicles. At least 31 people were killed and more than 90 injured. The attack took place in Urumqi, which is the capital of China's northwest region. It has a heavy concentration of Muslims. It is the second major attack in that city in less than a month. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Urumqi and is on the line with us right now. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have been all smiles as they emphasize improved relations between the two countries. Drawing them closer is their shared, tense relationship with the U.S..

Openness doesn't come naturally to China's Communist Party. After all, China is an authoritarian state where people have little right to know how they are governed. But Communist Party schools have been trying to change that over the years by teaching officials how to deal with the news media.

Earlier this month, Qin Chang, a host at Shanghai People's Radio, taught a class on the art of the press conference at China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai's sprawling Pudong district and I was invited to watch.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States economy has been the largest in the world since the days when Ulysses S. Grant was president. That was in the 1870s. But a new World Bank report says by one measure that could change by the end of this year: China would take over the top spot this year.

To explain what the new report means and what it doesn't, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's on the line from Shanghai. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

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