Rob Schmitz

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Shanghai, covering the human stories of China's economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China's impact beyond its borders has taken him to countries such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Inside China, he's interviewed elderly revolutionaries, young rappers, and live-streaming celebrity farmers who make up the diverse tapestry of one of the most fascinating countries on the planet.

Schmitz has won several awards for his reporting on China, including two national Edward R. Murrow Awards and an Education Writers Association Award. His work was also a finalist for the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. His reporting in Japan — from the hardest-hit areas near the failing Fukushima nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami — was included in the publication 100 Great Stories, celebrating the centennial of Columbia University's Journalism School. In 2012, Schmitz exposed the fabrications in Mike Daisey's account of Apple's supply chain on This American Life. His report was featured in the show's "Retraction" episode.

From 2010 to 2016, Schmitz was the China correspondent for Marketplace. He's also worked as a reporter for NPR Member stations KQED, KPCC, and MPR. Prior to his radio career, Schmitz lived and worked in China — first as a teacher for the Peace Corps in the 1990s, and later as a freelance print and video journalist. He speaks Mandarin and Spanish. He has a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Schmitz is the author of Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road (2016), a profile of individuals who live, work, and dream along a single street that runs through the heart of China's largest city.

A lot of questions spring to mind on arriving at the construction site for a full-scale Chinese replica of the Titanic:

Why is this being built in the remote countryside, 1,000 miles from the sea?

Why is this being built?

And simply: Why?

The infomercial the developer screens for visitors at the site in the town of Daying, Sichuan Province, leaves these questions unanswered.

It's early afternoon, and the roosters of Three Stones Village are clucking themselves into a frenzy. They're responding to the antics of farmer Liu Jin Yin, who darts this way and that between bamboo groves, rice paddies and livestock, carrying a tripod that holds his iPhone.

The barefoot 26-year-old climbs a tree and descends with a handful of flowers. He leans into his phone to explain.

The last time China pressured Hong Kong to scrap its curriculum in favor of one developed by China's Communist Party-led government, tens of thousands marched through the city chanting, "Down with national education!"

Thundering chants of "We are Hong Kong" from thousands of red-shirted fans reverberate through the city's stadium, tucked into the lush mountains and jagged skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong's soccer team is playing against Lebanon, and the cheers die down for the opening stanza of the Lebanese national anthem.

The polite applause for the opposing team takes a turn, though, when the national anthem of China – technically Hong Kong's anthem, too – begins.

Engaging the Chinese on North Korea and trade were President Trump's two priorities this week in Beijing — and engage he did, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping gave little indication he was ready to budge any further on either issue.

Soft lounge music pipes through the speakers as elegantly dressed shoppers peruse organic produce and meats at City'super, one of Shanghai's most upscale markets, a cross between Whole Foods and Louis Vuitton. But one look at the price of an American steak is enough to conjure a mental scratch of a needle across this soothing soundtrack: Nearly $60 for a pound of USDA Prime ribeye.

At the end of every summer, scientist Li Zhongqin takes his seasonal hike near the top of a glacier in the Tianshan mountains in China's far northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Li scrambles over a frozen ridge and heads toward a lone pole wedged in the ice. Clouds emerge from a peak above and quickly blow past. He stops to catch his breath. He is at 14,000 feet. The snow is thick. The air is thin.

"This is called a sight rod," he says, grasping the pole. "We come up here each month to check it, to see how fast the glacier's melting. Each year, the glacier is 15 feet thinner."

The bare, plaster walls of Yu Zu'en's new government-issued apartment are adorned with three decorations: an old photo from his years as a soldier, a shelf for his harmonica, and a poster featuring the busts of every Chinese Communist Party secretary since Chairman Mao. He points to the newest one and smiles.

"I wouldn't be here without Xi Jinping," he says. "Under his wise leadership, we're now taken care of. Before, we barely survived. Our village was up in the mountains. Corn didn't grow well, no roads. Then the leaders mobilized us and the entire village moved here."

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in September, Liang Xiaojun received a knock on the door. "There were 15 of them: national security police, regular police, justice bureau folks," he remembers.

Liang is a human rights lawyer in Beijing, an endangered species since 2015, when China's government questioned or detained more than 200 of his colleagues. Now he wonders if they're coming for him.

"They told me this was just a preliminary check. Next week, they'll send more police. It's possible they'll arrest me, but I mustn't live in fear."

Speaking to a foreign journalist is usually a stressful endeavor for a Uighur in China. Uighurs belong to a Muslim ethnic minority and speak a language closer to Turkish than Chinese. These differences from China's dominant ethnicity, the Han, have been at the root of a tense and sometimes violent relationship between Uighurs and China's government.

But there's another difference many Uighurs possess that the rest of China is attracted to: their appearance.

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