Book Review: Frank Langfitt's 'The Shanghai Free Taxi' Delves Deep Into China's Troubles

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One of the best ways to get know a country is by talking to its people. NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt, who has covered China and other countries over a span of nearly two decades, proves this in latest book, The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China. The book is a master class on how to chronicle a changing country through the personal narratives of its citizens. Langfitt wanted to learn about China by talking to a variety of individuals from all walks of life, so he tried to become a taxi driver in Shanghai. The Chinese government wouldn't allow a foreigner to do that job, so Langfitt found a loophole and created a free taxi service offering rides in exchange for conversation. The next few years were full of talks with a wide range of intriguing characters representative of the new China, its history, and its contemporary struggles. Langfitt drove, listened, asked questions, and took notes and recordings of his encounters. The result was a wealth of knowledge that covered everything from finances to relationships and from the gaps between inner China and its monstrous metropolises to the language barrier between Mandarin speakers and those who only learned local dialects. The Shanghai Free Taxi collects that knowledge and offers an outstanding, touching, honest chronicle of China, arguably America's most important competitor, as it adapts to inner changes and worldwide events.