As veteran journalist Frank Langfitt begins his second stint as NPR's China correspondent, he looks for people who will speak openly--not an easy feat in a country known for its tight control of expression. Thus, his free taxi business is born, offering rides in exchange for unfiltered conversation. Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China is "a revealing snapshot of China... a striking veneer with cracks just beneath the surface."
Shanghai, with a population of more than 24 million, is an enigmatic mix of 21st-century innovation and ancient traditions. China maintains tight control on its citizens, and some of the most fascinating people Langfitt meets are those who fight for less authoritarian control. Johanna, a human rights lawyer, regularly battles in court even though she loses. Chen hosts a house-church because open practice of religion is forbidden. Fifi, a psychology teacher, encourages her students to question authority. But in a country where "self-censorship and silence [are] patriotic acts," their fellow citizens are often the ones who most fear and decry rebellion.
Langfitt reveals the complex history of modern China through fascinating stories that range from humorous to sorrowful. Importantly, these profiles of individual Chinese men and women successfully humanize an enormous population that other countries tend to see as one homogenous body. His real affection for them shines through on every page, and leads to his hope that "one day the Chinese people will have a government more worthy of them." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.