Cab Talk

Brian Spivey interviews former NPR Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt

While working as NPR’s Shanghai correspondent from 2011 to 2016, Frank Langfitt observed that China was at a crossroads. The enormous economic growth of the previous three decades had yielded a more prosperous and worldly population, but had also led to stark inequality, rampant corruption, and a cooling economy. Langfitt wanted to understand what ordinary Chinese people thought and cared about during this inflection point. To find out, he drew on his prior experience as a taxi driver in Philadelphia, and drove people around Shanghai in exchange for conversation, for a series of radio stories.

The resulting book, The Shanghai Free Taxi, provides an in-depth, sensitive and informed look at what ordinary Chinese think several years into Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream.” I talked with him on the phone about why he decided to drive a taxi for free in Shanghai, the kinds of interesting people he met while doing so, and what those people think about the social and political changes they are living through.