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The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China

Frank Langfitt

6 Reviews

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Travel writing

Real lives in modern Shanghai - a portrait of a dynamic city struggling against a repressive regime

As any traveller knows, the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So when journalist Frank Langfitt wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab - and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

The Chinese economic boom, with its impact on the environment, global trade, and the tech industry, has been one of the most important stories of the twenty-first century. Yet few realise that the boom is largely over, and that the new reality in China is unequal growth, political anxiety and a newly empowered strongman president in Xi Jinping.

In order to understand this new world, Frank Langfitt offered the citizens of Shanghai a simple deal: a conversation in exchange for a free taxi ride. Rides turned into follow-up interviews, shared meals and even a wedding invitation. In this adventurous book, we get to know an array of quirky yet representative characters like Beer Horse, the pushy dealer who sells Langfitt his used car; Rocky, a stylishly dressed migrant worker who loves John Denver music; and Xiao Chen, who moved his family to Hawaii to escape China's oppressive education system but was unable to get out of the country himself.

Unfolding over the course of several years, THE SHANGHAI FREE TAXI is a sensitive and eye-opening book about a rapidly changing country.

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Praise for The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China

  • As Washington risks a new cold war with Beijing, Langfitt excels at humanising a country increasingly presented in purely oppositional terms . . . Langfitt achieves a breadth rarely found in journalistic accounts of the country - Financial Times

  • Frank Langfitt achieved what generations of visitors to China only dreamed of doing: He devised an ingenious way to burrow into everyday 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

  • Driving in China is hard. Getting average Chinese people to open up about their feelings and opinions is even harder. In The Shanghai Free Taxi Frank Langfitt does both at the same time, driving a cab in the flagship city of a country in transition. Challenging to report but easy to read, this book reveals China's true transition: a profound search for identity in the world at large

  • 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

  • Enlightening ... [an] admirably sincere attempt to understand a nation and its people - TLS

  • While Frank Langfitt was working as National Public Radio correspondent in Shanghai he came up with an unusual twist on the journalist's cliche of soliciting comments from taxi drivers. He decided to become the taxi driver and to offer people rides in exchange for their stories. The result, The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China, is an entertaining and sympathetic mosaic of characters and experiences from the highly charged and fast-moving society of contemporary China. - NEW STATESMAN

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Frank Langfitt

Frank Langfitt spent a decade as a reporter in China, first with the BALTIMORE SUN in Beijing and later as NPR's Shanghai correspondent from 2011 to 2016. Langfitt graduated from Princeton and was Nieman fellow at Harvard. He now serves as NPR's correspondent in London and lives in Surrey with his wife, Julie, a veterinarian, and their two children. Before becoming a journalist, Langfitt drove a taxi in Philadelphia.

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