Connecting generations and cultures through the lives of ordinary people
Dori Jones Yang is a writer who aims to build bridges between cultures and between generations. Author of a wide variety of books for different audiences, she loves to explore different countries, explain complex issues in understandable language, and make history come alive.
Cross-cultural understanding is vital for world peace.
It’s important for people in both countries that the U.S. and China maintain good relations.
Books can help you get to know people in other countries and appreciate their values and lives.
American children benefit from diverse books about kids from other countries and backgrounds.
We can become wiser by seeking wisdom in older people and those from other religions and cultures.
A wise and admirable company is one that aims to do well while doing good.
Good, clear writing can bridge the gap between ordinary readers and even complex subjects.
The Shanghai Free Taxi is the best book I’ve read that shows how ordinary Chinese think and live. Author Frank Langfitt, who worked as Shanghai correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) from 2011-2016, discovered a delightfully innovative way to gain insights into ordinary Chinese minds: he offered free taxi rides. Fluent in Mandarin after spending five years in Beijing as Baltimore Sun correspondent, Langfitt asked his passengers questions and recorded their responses as they opened up with surprising candor. Some asked him to make long trips deep into China’s countryside and even to its far-off border region in the hills near Laos.
Unlike journalists who focus mainly on China’s national leadership, Langfitt went out of his way to report what he heard from citizens—whether or not it reflected his/our American values. His reporting reflects the complexities and nuances of opinions of thoughtful Chinese.
What did he learn in these long hours of listening?
He found low-income migrants who were struggling to make a living in Shanghai, where they were treated as second-class citizens, and he helped a woman trying to find her younger sister, a former prostitute who had disappeared. He followed the life of a poor farm boy who became an overworked city lawyer, a hair stylist who grew rich but still gave free haircuts to elderly shut-ins, and an idealistic young human rights lawyer who refused to give up. Some achieved their personal dreams, while others stumbled or realized their dreams were beyond reach.
Several of those he befriended found a way to move to the United States, including one Peking University graduate who earned a business degree in the US. Disillusioned with Trump—and dismayed by what she observed about the flaws of U.S. democracy—she decided to move back to China, “a land of opportunity and possibility.” Despite the self-censorship she found among her Chinese friends, everyday living in Shenzhen was much better than she expected—convenient, lucrative, and comfortable.
President Xi Jinping, Langfitt observed, remains widely popular within China—even after his 2018 decision to eliminate term limits and become president for life. Ordinary citizens admire Xi for his campaign against corruption, his emphasis on the environment, and his work to reduce poverty.
Like many Americans, Langfitt feels conflicted about China in the era of Xi Jinping. Despite his worries about the country’s growing repression, rising nationalism, and neutering of the news media, he feels upbeat about the Chinese people he met, many of whom are living the American Dream—in China. Most expect the future to be “yue lai yue hao”—better and better—because that has been their lived experience.
Langfitt concludes that, “despite some of Xi’s authoritarian policies, many Chinese are happy with the president and . . . optimistic about the future” – and likely to continue to support Xi if he manages the economy well. That’s a perspective that we Americans don’t often hear.
Under a warm white sky, Tiananmen Square bustles with the joy of anarchy. Nearly a million citizens of China, overcoming their fears, have gushed forth from their tiny flats into this open space at the center of Beijing. On this May day in 1989, an eager yet uneasy sense of amazement draws me to this familiar public space, now teaming with peaceful protestors. Televised images of this scene have been sparking imaginations all over the world this week; what will I find, in person?