The Shanghai Free Taxi

Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China


By Frank Langfitt

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As any traveler knows, some of the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So, when a long-time NPR correspondent wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab–and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

China–America’s most important competitor–is at a turning point. With economic growth slowing, Chinese people face inequality and uncertainty as their leaders tighten control at home and project power abroad.

In this adventurous, original book, NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt describes how he created a free taxi service–offering rides in exchange for illuminating conversation–to go beyond the headlines and get to know a wide range of colorful, compelling characters representative of the new China. They include folks like “Beer,” a slippery salesman who tries to sell Langfitt a used car; Rocky, a farm boy turned Shanghai lawyer; and Chen, who runs an underground Christian church and moves his family to America in search of a better, freer life.

Blending unforgettable characters, evocative travel writing, and insightful political analysis, The Shanghai Free Taxi is a sharply observed and surprising book that will help readers make sense of the world’s other superpower at this extraordinary moment.


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Cast of Characters (in order of appearance)

Chapter 1

Yang: Frank’s news assistant, a young man who helps him scheme up the Shanghai Free Taxi and accompanies him on road trips

Chen: a Shanghai pajama salesman who runs an underground church and moves his family to America to give his daughter a less stressful education

Chapters 2 and 3

Rocky: a farm boy turned Shanghai lawyer from Hubei province, whom Frank drives home for Chinese New Year

Charles: another passenger on the Chinese New Year road trip who works as a salesman in a Shanghai shipping-parts factory and later becomes a news assistant for a European newspaper

Guo: Rocky’s mother, who overcame political persecution during the Cultural Revolution

Ray: Rocky’s older brother and a fellow Shanghai lawyer who studied in America

Chapter 4

Beer: a slippery salesman who tries to sell Frank a used car to serve as his free taxi

Amanda: a former finance worker who has lost her family fortune in a pyramid scheme

Fifi: a former schoolteacher and psychologist who is married to a Frenchman who lives in Paris

Chapter 5

Johanna: a human rights lawyer who engages a Shanghai cabbie in a democracy debate

Max: a hairstylist from the countryside, who gives back by cutting the hair of elderly shut-ins for free

Chapter 6

Crystal: a Chinese American NPR listener, who enlists Frank’s and Yang’s help to search for her little sister, who has gone missing in the mountains of southwestern China

Winnie: Crystal’s little sister, a former prostitute who tries to reinvent herself as an independent businesswoman and then vanishes

Chapter 7

Sarah: a young woman from the provinces, whom Frank helps move and who is trying to find her place amid the bright lights of Shanghai

Ashley: an investment banker and daughter of Communist Party officials, who moves to America in search of political freedom months before the election of Donald Trump

Chapter 10

Gong: the wife of pajama salesman Chen, who sets up a home for the family in greater Los Angeles

Jiali: Gong and Chen’s teenage daughter, who was born in China

Yingying: the couple’s younger daughter, who was born in America




IN THE SUMMER of 1982, between my graduation from high school and the beginning of college, I began driving a taxi in and around Philadelphia. I started at a suburban company called Narberth Cab, which had a dispatch office in a basement grotto beneath an Italian restaurant. Because I was the newest and youngest driver, the dispatchers often stuck me with the worst cab in the fleet, a 1970s Dodge Dart. When I pulled up to apartment buildings, the tailpipe spewed clouds of gray exhaust that sent crowds scurrying. We called it “the crop duster.” Once the passengers stepped inside, though, the taxi became like a cozy corner bar. For a few miles or a long ride, customers talked about whatever was on their minds and what they really cared about: work, children, marriage, and their futures. For an aspiring journalist like me, it was ideal on-the-job training. My passengers often shared personal thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement and, occasionally, I saw them at their most vulnerable. I drove an elderly woman to a liquor store every few days to buy a bottle of vodka and hauled a middle-aged man home from a bar one afternoon and helped him up the stairs. One summer night, the dispatcher sent me to a house out on the Main Line. A young woman stood waiting in the doorway with two suitcases, but she wasn’t heading to the airport. As I drove her to the home of a friend, she explained how her boyfriend had been so kind in the beginning.

“I got sucked into this,” she said, gesturing as we passed the spacious stone houses with white columns and freshly cut lawns. The relationship had soured and she was determined to escape. As I pulled up to her friend’s home, she wiped away her tears and thanked me for listening.

Nearly three decades later, I prepared to head to Shanghai for my new job as one of National Public Radio’s correspondents covering China. It was a challenging assignment. Because of the authoritarian political system and circumspect culture, it wasn’t always easy to get Chinese people to speak openly. I flew into Shanghai one summer day in 2011 and boarded the city’s magnetic levitation train, one of the world’s fastest with a top speed of 267 miles per hour. Gliding above magnetic rails, Maglev, as it’s called, rocketed toward town at nearly 190 miles an hour, leaving the apartment blocks, cranes, canals, and farm fields outside little more than a blur. When we passed another train heading in the opposite direction, our carriage shook as if it had been struck by an earthquake. This was the impression the Communist Party wanted to leave with visitors: China was changing so fast, it felt like the tectonic plates were shifting beneath your feet. Maglev covered eighteen miles in less than eight minutes, but that was long enough to begin to see weaknesses beneath the impressive facade. Maglev, which had cost $1.2 billion, was already seven years old and a white elephant. The seats were worn and most sat empty because the $6 ticket was too expensive, and the train’s route was inconvenient. Maglev dropped passengers nearly ten miles away from the city center. China had become the world’s number two economy in record time, but only a small percentage of people had become genuinely wealthy. The quick train trip provided a revealing snapshot of China at that moment: a striking veneer with cracks just beneath the surface. The perception back in the West was different. Most Americans still thought China was on a tear—“our overlords” is how Jon Stewart referred to the country’s leaders on the Daily Show. The reality, though, was more worrisome and complicated. China’s staggering economic growth rates had slowed to a still-enviable level above 6 percent, but the country’s boom was over. Government corruption had metastasized. The Chinese now routinely referred to the last ten years as a “lost decade,” because the government had done so little to address major problems such as air pollution and China’s business model, which even party leaders acknowledged had run its course.

This was my second tour of China. I’d worked as a newspaper correspondent in Beijing from 1997 to 2002. Upon my return to the country, I also noticed many encouraging changes in my years away. Though not yet rich, many Chinese were much more prosperous and sophisticated, and online speech was flourishing. I was surprised to find the party allowed a whirlwind of criticism, often targeting the government, to swirl around massive digital platforms such as Sina Weibo, a microblog service considered the Twitter of China. In my first months in Shanghai, it became clear the Communist Party was losing the faith of its people and losing its way. After more than three decades of economic reform, rising living standards, and opening to the world, the globe’s most populous country was at a crossroads and something had to give. How would the party respond to the tremendous changes and rising expectations of its own people? Would it adapt and become more open or revert to its authoritarian instincts? In 2011, it was anyone’s guess.

Shanghai, China’s showcase city, seemed a good place to begin to search for answers. A mix of East and West, it was one of the world’s largest cities, with twenty-four million people ranging from rice farmers to billionaires, and covered an area the size of the state of Delaware. It was also a study in contrasts: urban and rural, glittering and gritty, rich and poor, idiosyncratic, grandiose, outwardly confident but inwardly insecure. I wanted to know what ordinary Chinese were thinking at this crucial moment and what mattered to them, but finding out would require a new strategy. Despite the relative freedom on the Internet, many Chinese were still cautious about speaking their minds and would become even more so in the years to come. To try to understand Shanghai from the ground up, I settled on what had worked so many years earlier in my hometown of Philadelphia: a taxicab. The idea seemed ludicrous, but logical. In a cab, no one else can hear what you say. What better way to encourage people who are naturally shy with reporters to speak candidly? I tried to replicate my experience in Philadelphia and went to local taxi companies asking for jobs. The bosses shook their heads and laughed. They told me that, unlike in America, foreigners weren’t allowed to drive cabs in China. So, in a city where people were constantly reinventing themselves and hatching new schemes, I came up with a novel business model: free cab rides in exchange for conversation.

Roof lamps are banned on private cars in Shanghai, so my news assistant, Yang, had white magnetic signs made. One set of signs read, or literally “Free Loving Heart Taxi,” which sounds better in Mandarin than it does in English. Another pair said, , , or “Make Shanghai Friends, Chat about Shanghai Life.” The biggest sign, draped over the hood, read: , or “I Shanghai.”

Though my feelings about Shanghai were a bit more complicated, there was much I came to love about China’s second city and its people. Shanghai was a visually astonishing mix of modern buildings that evoked Las Vegas and Tokyo and colonial architecture reminiscent of London and France. Brimming with energy and drive, it operated on a scale that dwarfed Manhattan. Within blocks of where my family and I would settle stood two skyscrapers taller than the Empire State Building and a third, Shanghai Tower, that would exceed two thousand feet when finished. I’d never lived in a more dynamic city, with so much ambition and potential. As I pursued my taxi experiment, I worried nobody would actually accept a ride, so I began cautiously and rented a Toyota Camry. I spent days getting up the nerve to go out driving, while the signs sat rolled up in a duffle under my desk. One rainy Sunday night in June 2014, I headed out on the town, still worried that people might laugh when they saw my car. But like so much that was to follow, the reactions to the cab were as surprising as they were illuminating. After fifteen minutes, I picked up a Chinese man in front of the Peace Cinema across from People’s Park in the heart of the city and promptly got lost. My passenger had spent the past two decades in Tokyo and was visiting Shanghai as a tourist, so he was even more disoriented than I was. He gave me the address of his hotel, which I struggled to find using my GPS. After a series of wrong turns, I finally dropped him off within walking distance of where he was staying. I felt embarrassed by my incompetence, but my poor service didn’t faze my passenger; he was just happy to chat with a foreigner and get a lift home. I found when you offer something for free, people don’t expect too much. When pedestrians saw my free taxi, they didn’t laugh or scowl but smiled, nodded knowingly, and gave me a thumbs-up. They liked the idea that someone was helping strangers and asking for no more in return than a chance to talk and learn. Bargain hunters by nature, Shanghainese also recognized a good deal when they saw one. As for the state security agents who kept an eye on me because I was a foreign reporter, they knew about the free taxi but never bothered me. I later heard that one of the agents liked the radio stories the free taxi generated.

Not everyone immediately grasped what I was doing. After filling up the tank one morning, I spotted an elderly couple standing in the rain and offered them a ride. They hopped in and sat silently in the back. Usually my passengers were intensely curious and interviewed me in a wonderful reversal of the usual journalistic process.

“Where are you from?” they’d ask. “Why are you doing this? Is this your full-time job?”

I always explained I was a reporter.

“Oh, do you need an assistant?” some would respond.

And nearly every passenger asked this: “Is your wife Chinese?”

The elderly couple, though, said almost nothing and directed me to a nearby hospital, where they planned to pick up medicine. I pulled up to the crowded hospital gate about ten minutes later. The lady fumbled with her change purse, pulled out a 10 yuan note—about $1.60—and prepared to hand it to me. I explained that I couldn’t accept her money.

“I’m not a black [illegal] cab,” I said in Mandarin. “I’m a free loving heart taxi.”

The couple, who had apparently not read the signs on my car, beamed with surprise at their good fortune and headed into the hospital.

On the way to the office one morning, I drove to the city’s Fuxing Road Ferry stop to search for customers. The ferry is one of the best deals in town: a cheap ticket with a spectacular view. For about 30 cents, you can ride across the Huangpu river gazing at futuristic glass-and-steel towers on one side and, on the other, the Bund, the city’s British colonial waterfront with neo-Gothic, beaux arts, and art deco buildings dating to the early twentieth century. The ferry pulled into the dock with a shudder and scores of electric scooters poured out, roaring up the metal ramp and scattering into the streets. A migrant laborer who worked on a nearby construction site strolled over to admire my signs.

“I’ve lived in Shanghai for six years,” said the man, who wore a yellow hard hat. “I’ve never seen a car like this, ever.”

Ferry workers in blue uniforms crowded around, taking photos with their phones. Behind them, on the back of a grimy Vespa-style scooter, sat a man with a buzz cut who wore shorts and a clean, white T-shirt. When he asked where I was from, I told him the United States.

“Oh,” he said, “my wife and two daughters live outside Los Angeles.”

Eyeing the signs on my car, Chen asked another question: “Are you a Christian?”

I said I was and attended an international church on the other side of the river.

“I’m a Christian, too,” Chen said.

Chen was thirty-seven years old with graying temples, alert eyes, and an air of self-possession that set him apart from the millions of people who raced around Shanghai each day chasing the next opportunity. He hadn’t seen his family in months and was looking forward to joining them in America, which is known in Chinese as Meiguo, “the beautiful country.”

“My wife just got a green card!” said Chen, who added that he had a young daughter who’d been born in the United States. He told me he had sent his family to America because the academic pressure in Chinese public schools was crushing his elder daughter. She had worked until ten or eleven every night on homework, and the strain had damaged her eyesight. Teachers also hit the girl, slapping her face so hard it sometimes made her dizzy. Like millions of migrants, Chen had come to Shanghai from a nearby province for higher wages and a better life. He worked as a pajama salesman at a clothing market where my wife, Julie, often had dresses made. Chen had his own apartment here but was trying to leave Shanghai and buy a house in Los Angeles. People had left China for centuries for better opportunities overseas, but over the past several decades the country had been the world’s greatest economic success story. Whether you were a hustler from the provinces or a Harvard MBA, Shanghai was a magnet for talent and ambition. Chen, though, didn’t like what the system was doing to his daughter and he didn’t like the Communist Party. He wanted something more civilized, more sustainable, and he wanted out.

Rich Chinese were already scooping up green cards and foreign passports so they could provide their children cleaner air and a more engaging education while sheltering their fortunes from an authoritarian regime that could detain people and seize assets at will. If China was going to take over the world, as so many in America seemed to believe, why were so many Chinese hedging their bets? Even a pajama salesman had an exit strategy. Getting to know Chen helped me begin to appreciate some of the complexities of China at this moment and some of the challenges its people faced. Decades of breakneck growth had transformed hundreds of millions of lives, but it had also taken a toll and, for some, the path forward was getting harder. In Shanghai and other top cities, real estate prices grew 13 percent annually just from 2003 to 2013. Clouds of pollution became so dense at times, my family and I could barely make out the balcony of the apartment next door. Now that many Chinese people had at least some wealth, they wanted more, not just materially but spiritually and psychologically. Many longed for a more humane society, one that instilled a pride that went beyond towering skyscrapers and lightning-fast trains. For people such as Chen, that meant moving to the United States, which offered a level of freedom that leaders in Beijing thought was dangerous.

I set out to drive my free taxi to learn what ordinary people wanted, how they saw themselves, their country, and the wider world. Over the next few years, I drove scores of passengers, everyone from factory workers and farmers to retirees, bankers, lawyers, and even a psychologist. Many returned the kindness, inviting me into their homes and lives and sharing their hopes and fears. What began on the streets of Shanghai turned into an odyssey that led me to villages in central China, into the mountains along the Lao border, and beyond, to Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kalamazoo. Over the years, I got to know an increasingly sophisticated generation of Chinese as they pursued their dreams and tried to make their homeland a better place. I drove Rocky, a poor farm boy turned Shanghai lawyer, back home to his village for his wedding, serving as his chauffeur for the festivities. I shuttled a hairstylist named Max to appointments where he gave free haircuts to elderly shut-ins in hopes of making China a kinder place. I even made it to Los Angeles to visit Chen as he struggled to build a new life for his immigrant family in Donald Trump’s America. In my experiment, I did not adhere to strict rules. On long journeys with multiple passengers in the countryside, I didn’t drive my Shanghai Free Taxi, but rented larger vans and an SUV, accompanied by my assistant, Yang, who recorded conversations as I drove. Meeting my passengers outside of China, I spent hours chatting and strolling with them through the streets of Western cities. In case the Chinese government wants to punish them for anything they’ve said in the following pages, I’ve used their English names, Chinese surnames, and, in one case, a pseudonym, Ashley, to protect their identities.

When I first got to know these people, they offered hope to a country that was mired in corruption and stuck in an authoritarian system that seemed like it couldn’t last. In the ensuing years, though, the political landscape in China and the West changed dramatically in ways few had anticipated. Xi Jinping became China’s president and championed a vision he called the Chinese Dream. But was it a dream for individual Chinese or the dream of the Communist Party? Later, Xi (pronounced “she”) declared that China had entered a New Era, a new period in modern Chinese history when the country would assert itself as a global power. The New Era would also mark the end of China’s nearly four decades of economic reform and slowly increasing freedoms. As Xi took China in a more sharply authoritarian direction, American voters would stun the world and elect a leader who had little regard for democratic norms or a free press. The United States had once been a beacon of freedom for so many Chinese, including the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated for democracy in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The election of Donald Trump left some liberal Chinese to question what system, if any, to believe in.

Given its size, complexity, and speed of change, China is extraordinarily difficult to capture. What follows is not a scholarly thesis on the future of the world’s other superpower, but simply the story of the people I met through the Shanghai Free Taxi as they grappled with personal challenges and tried to navigate this uncertain and pivotal moment in the history of modern China and the Western world.


Chinese New Year Road Trip

Rocky and Charles

IN THE WINTER of 1998, while working as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, I traveled with a Chinese couple during the world’s largest annual mass migration, when hundreds of millions of workers leave the cities and return home to the countryside for Chinese New Year. I met the couple, Chen and Li, in Beijing’s cavernous West Railway Station. Along with two thousand other passengers, this construction worker, housemaid, and I pushed and shoved our way onto an aging train and spent more than a dozen hours rocking down the tracks south toward Hefei, the capital of Anhui province. The trip was grueling. Men battled for space on the overhead racks, jamming luggage in so tight that a suitcase crashed down on a passenger’s forehead, leaving a bloody gash. By evening, the train’s metal squat toilets were clogged and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. Passengers tossed the shells of sunflower seeds, orange rinds, beer bottle caps, and even cooked rice into the aisle as though they were composting. Bleary-eyed and rumpled, we left the train in Hefei and took two buses to get to Chen’s farming village.

When we arrived, five hours later, Chen walked across his family’s muddy yard toward Honghong, their three-year-old daughter whom they hadn’t seen in eleven months. The little girl dashed off, scattering chickens and roosters. Honghong didn’t recognize her father. I learned a lot on that trip about the hardship that Chinese migrant workers endure, but after a couple of nights shivering inside an unheated farmhouse in subzero temperatures, I couldn’t take the cold anymore. I thanked my hosts, flew back to Beijing, filed my story, and thought I’d never take that brutal annual journey to the countryside ever again.

I was mistaken.

In 2015, seventeen years later, I decided to travel with migrants back to Hubei province in central China to see how the annual holiday trek had evolved. How difficult would it be to travel back to China’s heartland now? What were the people and the conditions like? I’d spent the previous six months picking up passengers in my free taxi on my commute to and from work. It seemed a good time for a road trip. So much had changed in China since the first time I’d traveled to the countryside for the new year. Instead of packing into a crowded train, I would rent a seven-seat Buick van and take the interstate—China’s equivalent of I-70—which had only been completed just a few years earlier. Had I retraced the old route by rail from Beijing to Hefei, the trip would have taken just under five hours by bullet train. Not only had China’s infrastructure modernized, so had its people. My fellow travelers this time weren’t poor peasants living on the margins of society, but the next, upwardly mobile, generation: a lawyer, his fiancée, and a salesman for a Shanghai shipping-parts factory, all college educated.

We found them after Yang, my assistant, posted an advertisement to NPR’s forty thousand followers on Weibo. In the spirit of the free taxi, we offered a ride home for Chinese New Year and selected two men from among the respondents, Charles and Rocky, who didn’t know each other but were fortuitously from the same part of Hubei. Both were heading home to prepare for their weddings. Like many educated young Chinese, the men had chosen English names. Rocky took his from the fictional, million-to-one-shot boxer from my hometown, Philadelphia. Both were eager for a free ride that would save them time and money. During a preliminary conversation at my office, Rocky encouraged me to choose him, promising that his older brother, Ray, would make a great interview because his story epitomized President Xi’s Chinese Dream. (China introduced its one-child population policy in 1979, but Ray was born before that and lived in the countryside, where couples were permitted to have two children.)

After Xi became head of the Communist Party in 2012, he went to an exhibit at the National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square called “The Road to Rejuvenation,” which traced China’s trajectory from the dark days of defeat in the Opium War (1839–1842) to the age of prosperity under party rule. Here President Xi began to lay out his vision for the Chinese Dream, a play on the American Dream that appealed at least in part to personal aspiration. But Xi also inextricably tied the Chinese Dream to the continued political dominance of the Communist Party and a restoration of China to a central place on the world stage.

“We must continue to strive to achieve the Chinese Dream and the nation’s great revival,” Xi told the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

I didn’t want to spend Chinese New Year listening to someone bore me with Communist Party talking points, but I always learned something new on every journey, so I decided to give Rocky a ride. I picked up Rocky and his fiancée, Piao, early one morning outside the walls of my apartment compound. Physically, Rocky seemed almost a different species from the migrant workers I’d accompanied home in the 1990s. In one of the fashion quirks of that era, Chinese migrant men, who were often unshaven, wore wrinkled suit coats with the label still stitched to the sleeve. Impoverished and unsophisticated, they dwelled at the bottom of the urban socioeconomic ladder and mistakenly thought that leaving a label on a sleeve conferred at least some meager status. Rocky, on the other hand, wore rimless glasses, a stylish, black, collarless jacket, a gray and white sweater, and pressed jeans. He would’ve easily blended in on the streets of any American city. I wondered how different these city dwellers would be from the family members they were returning to see in the countryside.


  • "An engaging and dynamic narrative that offers readers an unusual perspective on modern China."—-The Washington Post
  • "As Washington risks a new cold war with Beijing, Langfitt excels at humanising a country increasingly presented in purely oppositional terms . . . achieves a breadth rarely found in journalistic accounts of the country."—-Financial Times
  • "The book is a master class on how to chronicle a changing country through the personal narratives of its citizens."—-NPR
  • "Langfitt is an amiable, informed correspondent, and there is much to enjoy here for those looking to learn about modern China: for anyone in a Beijing-bound cab from the airport, forget about probing your cabbie for some home-spun authentic wisdom, and enjoy a few chapters of The Shanghai Free Taxi instead."—Jonathan Chatwin, Asian Review of Books
  • "Lively, humorous, and touching, the book exposes the struggles of regular people in conflict with an authoritarian state. Without judgment, the author/driver allows his subjects to narrate their own adventures, leading to honest, raw, human stories."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Drawing on years of reporting, he provides context and a broader picture to anchor the narrative's kaleidoscope of characters, experiences, and opinions, making for a heartfelt, engaging, and informative read."—Booklist
  • "does a great job of not romanticising the West . . . His comparisons of old and new China are informative and accurate . . . a comprehensive narrative of (the) New China."—Cha
  • "Frank Langfitt devised an ingenious way to burrow into everyday Chinese life, and he came back with stories that are humane, candid, fast-paced, and compulsively readable. The Shanghai Free Taxi gives you the marrow of today's China in all its kindnesses and cruelties and wonders and absurdities."—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, National Book Award winner
  • "An energetic and sympathetic reporter, Frank Langfitt follows individuals not only to the far ends of China, but also to the United States and Europe. Challenging to report but easy to read, this book reveals China's true transition: a profound search for identity in the world at large."—Peter Hessler, New York Times-bestselling author of Country Driving, Oracle Bones, and River Town
  • "Frank Langfitt's stint as a taxi driver collecting tales of modern China has created a rollicking, delightful read. Enchanting."—Mei Fong, author of One Child, and Pulitzer Prize winner
  • "A delightful, poignant, and revealing book. Langfitt got to see inside the lives of Chinese families of all backgrounds and social classes, and from many parts of the country. The result is a vivid look at the contradictory dreams, achievements, heartbreaks, and possibilities of modern China."—James Fallows, author of Our Towns and China Airborne
  • "The Shanghai Free Taxi presents a unique, kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society. Characters in this book open up, talking freely and truthfully in a way unimaginable elsewhere under the oppressive regime. It is a must read for anyone trying to gain rare and insightful glimpses into that complicated country."—Qiu Xiaolong, author of Shanghai Redemption and nine other Inspector Chen novels
  • "Frank Langfitt writes with the streetwise eye of a cabbie and the analytical mind of a foreign correspondent. This is today's China as it gossips; gripes and moans; strives; struggles; and overcomes."—Paul French, author of City of Devils and Midnight in Peking
  • "A cleverly conceived, well executed book by an engaging and empathetic storyteller. Langfitt offers up an appealing mix of humorous and poignant tales featuring individuals from different backgrounds who share just one common trait: all are struggling to find their places in and make sense of an era when their city, their country and the world at large have been undergoing complex and often confounding transformations."—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, coauthor of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
  • "By creating a free taxi and offering free rides, veteran NPR reporter Frank Langfitt takes us on a journey across China and into the soul of today's Chinese civilization. We learn how a wide cross section of Chinese people live and think as the author provides an up-close view of their fears and aspirations and the forces that shape their lives in ways good and bad. I have lived in China for thirty years, and this book gave me new insights and brought me to places I have never been. Truly unique and compelling."—James L. McGregor, chairman of APCO Worldwide's greater China region and author of No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers and One Billion Customers
  • "A fascinating travelogue slash meditation on modern China . . . it is Langfitt's skill with the written word and his ability to establish ideas through vivid examples that sets his work apart."—-That's Shanhai

On Sale
Jun 11, 2019
Page Count
320 pages

Frank Langfitt

About the Author

Frank Langfitt is NPR’s London correspondent, covering Brexit, terrorism and other stories in Western Europe. Before coming to the United Kingdom, he spent a decade as a reporter in China, most recently as NPR’s correspondent in Shanghai, where he drove a free taxi around the city for a series on a changing China as seen through the eyes of ordinary people. Langfitt got the idea for the series from his experience decades earlier driving taxis in Philadelphia during summers home from college. The NPR radio series inspired his first book, “The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China.”

In 2008, Langfitt covered the Beijing Olympics as a member of NPR’s team, which won an Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting. From 1997 to 2002, he was the Baltimore Sun’s Beijing correspondent, covering a swath of Asia from the Khyber Pass to East Timor. Langfitt is a graduate of Princeton and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He lives outside London with his wife, Julie, and their two children. Follow him on Twitter @franklangfitt

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