'A unique, kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society ... A must read' Qiu Xiaolong, author of Shanghai Redemption
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 Jingping.
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.
'Langfitt excels at humanising a country increasingly presented in purely oppositional terms [and] achieves a breadth rarely found in journalistic accounts' Financial Times
Langfitt, a former NPR China correspondent, offers an engaging exploration of China in a moment of economic growth and cultural upheaval. As a foreign journalist trying to understand the perspectives of ordinary people in a famously circumspect culture, Langfitt hit upon the idea of offering "free cab rides in exchange for conversation." The result is a collection of fascinating journalistic narratives that introduce memorable individuals such as brothers Rocky and Ray, who traded farm work for law jobs in Shanghai; Fifi, an idealistic psychologist and former teacher who says that she feels safer and more free outside her country; Ashley, the daughter of Communist Party officials who seeks an American MBA and more intellectual diversity than she finds in China; and Chen, a pajama salesman and member of an underground Christian church who eventually moves to America in search of a less competitive, more tolerant culture. Langfitt also gauges his contacts' reactions to the Brexit morass, the election of Donald Trump, and their attempts to navigate the parallel resurgence of popular nationalism and political authoritarianism in their own country. This engaging work is sure to interest those who have enjoyed Langfitt's NPR reporting or who are curious about contemporary Chinese culture and politics.