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

Frank Langfitt. PublicAffairs, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61039-814-5

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. (June)