The Shanghai Free Taxi

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What to expect

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 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.

Critics Review

  • As Washington risks a new cold war with Beijing, Langfitt excels at humanising a country increasingly presented in purely oppositional terms . . . Langfitt achieves a breadth rarely found in journalistic accounts of the country

    Financial Times
  • Frank Langfitt achieved what generations of visitors to China only dreamed of doing: He devised an ingenious way to burrow into everyday life, and he came back with stories that are humane, candid, fast-paced and compulsively readable. The Shanghai Free Taxi gives you the marrow of today’s China in all its kindnesses and cruelties and wonders and absurdities

    Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China
  • Driving in China is hard. Getting average Chinese people to open up about their feelings and opinions is even harder. In The Shanghai Free Taxi Frank Langfitt does both at the same time, driving a cab in the flagship city of a country in transition. Challenging to report but easy to read, this book reveals China’s true transition: a profound search for identity in the world at large

    Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip
  • Frank Langfitt’s stint as a taxi driver collecting tales of modern China has created a rollicking, delightful read. Enchanting

    Mei Fong, author of One Child
  • The Shanghai Free Taxi presents a unique, kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society. Characters in this book open up, talking freely and truthfully in a way unimaginable elsewhere under the oppressive regime. It is a must read for anyone trying to gain rare and insightful glimpses into that complicated country

    Qiu Xiaolong, author of the Inspector Chen novels including Shanghai Redemption
  • The Shanghai Free Taxi is a delightful, poignant and revealing book. In his role as impromptu, volunteer chauffeur in Shanghai, Frank Langfitt got to see inside the lives of Chinese families of all backgrounds and social classes, and from many parts of the country. The result is a vivid look at the contradictory dreams, achievements, heartbreaks and possibilities of modern China

    James Fallows, author of Our Towns and China Airborne

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