Rob Schmitz

Rob Schmitz is the Shanghai Correspondent for NPR.

From 2010 to 2016, Schmitz was the China Correspondent for the public radio business program Marketplace. 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, Rob 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, the most downloaded episode in the program's 16-year history.

Prior to his radio career, Schmitz lived and worked in China – first as a teacher for the Peace Corps in the 1990s, 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's latest book is Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road (2016).

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.

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."

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.

At the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar in the heart of Urumqi, everything is bought and sold from tiny stalls blasting local music, in a square filled with Islamic architecture. It's a place that feels more like Central Asia than China.

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Thirty miles off the shore of Port Douglas, Australia, tourists jump into the water of the outer reef. On their dive, they see giant clams, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish, all swimming above brightly colored coral.

On a boat, marine biologist Lorna Howlett quizzes the tourists in the sunshine. "How many people out there saw a coral highlighter-yellow?" she asks, eliciting a show of hands. "What about highlighter-blue? Yeah? Anyone see some hot pinks?"

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We're going to turn to Hong Kong now, which is marking the 20th anniversary of Great Britain's handover of the city to China. China's government celebrated the event with a massive fireworks display...

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China. China's Xi Jinping celebrated with a visit to the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Speaking Chinese).

Each morning, a white-shirted army of bankers fills the crosswalks of Hong Kong, stopping and starting in unison to the ubiquitous chirping of the city's crosswalk signals, a sound eerily reminiscent of a Las Vegas slot machine room. Twenty years ago, the traders and account managers crossing these streets were mostly expatriates and local Hong Kongers, and when they arrived to the office, much of their business was done in English.

In a city as packed as Hong Kong, what's private elsewhere becomes public — like conversations about politics. In the shade of a tree, a middle-aged man in a park tells me he likes China's government and he's not worried about its impact on his city.

Old women sitting on a nearby bench overhear him and shake their heads in unison until one of them stands up.

"Tell the truth!" one of the women yells.

She and the man exchange a few choice words and then he gets up and storms off to find another bench.

On a typical block in Hong Kong, thousands of people live on top of each other. Pol Fàbrega thinks about all these people as he looks up at the towering high rises above the streets. And then he thinks about all that space above all these people.

"The square footage here is incredibly expensive," says Fàbrega, staring upwards. "But yet, if you look at Hong Kong from above, it's full of empty rooftops."

It is, he says, a big opportunity for growth.

Thirty years after Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong labeled golf a sport for the bourgeois and banned it from his worker's paradise, his successor gave the sport another try.

At the wine tasting room of Taylors Wines in Sydney, Australia, bottles are uncorked, poured, swished, sniffed and sipped. There's a lot for employees to toast this year.

"The Australian wine sector is growing at a fast rate," says Mitchell Taylor, the winery's managing director. "And what is exciting is the top level, about 20 to 30 dollars a bottle and above, that segment is growing at 53 percent."

That's thanks, in part, to China.

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At six in the morning, trucks line the streets of Dandong. They're filled with heavy machinery, refrigerators, fruit — all waiting to cross a bridge over the Yalu River into North Korea.

The China-Korea Friendship Bridge is a lifeline for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Seventy percent of North Korea's trade passes over it, trade that's been a source of tension as the Trump administration tries to persuade China to cut exports to the North.

The festivities at this month's third annual Qingyuan marathon, in southern China's Guangdong province, begin at 7 a.m.

On one side of the starting line, there's a traditional Chinese music troupe in robes and long, flowing beards; on the other, there's a stage full of dancing girls wearing skimpy marathon attire, gyrating their hips in unison to a rap song.

Stuck in the middle are more than 23,000 runners, itching to start. The music stops, a gun is fired, and for the next half-hour, runners jostle with one another to cross the starting line

President Trump may not talk much about electric vehicles, but there's another American — with better name recognition in China — who does.

The voice of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, popular in China for his role in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, graces the showroom of Auto Shanghai, the city's biennial automotive expo, accompanied by images beamed on a circular wall showing Beijing covered in smog and children wearing pollution masks.

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This next story begins with a disturbing sound. It's from a video of a passenger being dragged from a United Airlines flight the other day. And it sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Screaming).

At a research lab on top of a forested hill overlooking Hong Kong, scientists are growing viruses. They first drill tiny holes into an egg before inoculating it with avian influenza to observe how the virus behaves.

The family of President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has called off talks with Chinese insurance company Anbang to redevelop a Manhattan office tower — a deal that raised ethical concerns.

"Kushner Companies is no longer in discussions with Anbang about 666 5th Avenue's potential redevelopment, and our firms have mutually agreed to end talks regarding the property," read a statement from the Kushner family. "Kushner Companies remains in active, advanced negotiations around 666 5th Avenue with a number of potential investors."

After winning an election conducted amongst Hong Kong's biggest Beijing supporters, 59-year-old former civil servant Carrie Lam said her priority would be to "heal the divide" in Hong Kong society, vowing to form a government based on talent, not connections.

After more than two years of protests over the city's political future, this seemed to be what her city needed to hear, and saying the right thing at the right time was precisely what catapulted Lam to this position in the first place.

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The streets of Dalianhe, in China's frigid northeast province of Heilongjiang, are lined with black snow. The town is home to one of China's largest open-pit coal mines. Workers drive through its front gate into a massive gorge with cliffs the color of ink — a canyon of coal. Thousands of feet below, it's silent but for the drip of melting snow.

North Korea again tested ballistic missiles this week, firing four of them into the waters near Japan. Just days later, the U.S. military announced that part of a controversial missile defense system arrived at Osan Air Base in South Korea for deployment as early as April.

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Sitting inside a glass-encased cockpit, two men fiddle with joysticks controlling giant claws outside. They look like they're playing at a vending machine at a mall, where you try to grasp a stuffed animal. But these are engineers. The claws they're manipulating are as big as houses, and they're sifting through hundreds of tons of garbage thrown away by the world's largest consumer class.

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