Rob Schmitz

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

Prior to covering Europe, Schmitz provided award-winning coverage of China for a decade, reporting on the country's economic rise and increasing global influence. His reporting on China's impact beyond its borders took 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. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road (Crown/Random House 2016), a profile of individuals who live, work, and dream along a single street that runs through the heart of China's largest city. The book won several awards and has been translated into half a dozen languages. In 2018, China's government banned the Chinese version of the book after its fifth printing. The following year it was selected as a finalist for the Ryszard Kapuściński Award, Poland's most prestigious literary prize.

Schmitz has won numerous 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 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. In 2011, New York's Rubin Museum of Art screened a documentary Schmitz shot in Tibetan regions of China about one of the last living Tibetans who had memorized "Gesar of Ling," an epic poem that tells of Tibet's ancient past.

From 2010 to 2016, Schmitz was the China correspondent for American Public Media's 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 also lived in Spain for two years. He speaks Mandarin and Spanish. He has a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Among pop culture's great mysteries: How exactly did David Hasselhoff become a rock 'n' roll God in Germany?

The 67-year-old star of decades-old television series Knight Rider and Baywatch doesn't skip a beat when asked the question.

"It all started with a girl named Nikki," Hasselhoff said during a recent interview with NPR in Berlin, where he was on a concert tour of Germany.

It was two years after the Berlin Wall had fallen when Karsten Hilse realized the people in his town had changed. It came to him in a blast of hot, white light.

"It was the first time that a firebomb was thrown at me," Hilse remembers. "Things like that didn't happen in the GDR."

On a typical day, Prague's City Hall is buzzing with discussions about contracts to upgrade the centuries-old city's network of cobblestone streets or sewers. But this month, assembly members have been debating a bigger topic — China, and what to do about it.

"This is clearly a topic for our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a complicated one at that," city assembly member Patrik Nacher lectures Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib during open debate. "And here you are, pulling Prague into a matter of such importance."

As the bells of evening Mass begin to ring, Kazimiera Sokolowska carefully makes her way up the steps to the Immaculate Conception Church in her hometown of Gora Kalwaria, Poland, in the heart of a bucolic river valley an hour outside of the capital of Warsaw. She attends Mass at least three times a week because, she says, that's what Poles do.

"Being Polish means religion, God, children and family," she says with a warm smile.

For as long as Germany has been a unified country, since 1990, the center-left Social Democratic Party has helped govern Brandenburg, a state in the country's east that surrounds Berlin. Tina Fischer, an SPD member of Brandenburg's state parliament, is concerned about how long that will last.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today in Hong Kong - violence as police clashed with protesters.

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Updated at 1:10 a.m. ET Monday

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a show of defiance against a government proposal that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.

Organizers of the protest say more than 1 million turned out to the streets, or roughly one in seven Hong Kong residents, but police estimated the crowds were far smaller.

He Qiang should be manning his convenience store, but today he's collecting tiny green berries along the road and shooting them at birds with his slingshot. The 26-year-old is distracting himself from his worries. He spent all his savings — the equivalent of $35,000 — on a store that no longer has any customers.

When it comes to Chinese authorities' eagerness to manage perceptions of the way they treat Muslim citizens in the Xinjiang region, it would be hard to beat a recent musical performance staged for an audience of foreign journalists.

On the fifth day of a government-sponsored media tour last month, at a detention facility in the far-western city of Kashgar, two dozen Uighur detainees belted out the American children's song "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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One week after the terror attack that killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, the government of New Zealand broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from one of those mosques.

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On Thursday morning, Sayyad Milne was washed and wrapped in white cloth. His loved ones buried him on a bluff overlooking Christchurch, New Zealand.

He was killed last Friday while he prayed with his family and friends, one of 50 people shot dead at two mosques that day.

He was 14.

Sayyad's classmates from Cashmere High School say he was good-natured, played goalie for the school soccer team and had dreams of playing internationally.

Ahmed Shalaldeh, with his 2-year-old daughter in a stroller, came to the burial to pay his respects.

In the days following Friday's mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the prime minister has called for gun law reforms, and the suspected shooter awaits trial.

An outpouring of friends and family has turned out to mourn the 50 people gunned down during prayers.

Meanwhile, more details are emerging about the accused attacker, Brenton Tarrant.

The 28-year-old, an Australian citizen who lives in New Zealand, has been charged with one count of murder so far but could face more charges. New Zealand's police force says it believes he acted alone.

Residents of Christchurch, New Zealand, are trying to recover and heal following Friday's attack on two mosques, which claimed the lives of 50 people and left more than 30 others in the hospital.

Police say the shooter — a 28-year-old Australian man who live-streamed the attack on Facebook and who is now in custody — likely acted alone. In the wake of the horrific attack, he left a community in pain.

In the fall of 2017, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired a series promoting China's achievements in science and technology. One episode profiled a Chinese scientist who claimed to have invented a gene-sequencing machine that outperformed those in the West.

"Somebody said we shocked the world with our machine," a man in his mid-30s says with a proud smile into the camera. "Yes, they're right! I did that — He Jiankui! That's me who did that!"

It wasn't the last time He Jiankui would shock the world.

Just days after President Trump announced a "BIG leap forward" in relations between the U.S. and China, tensions between the two economic heavyweights are escalating once more. This time, the focus of the friction is on Meng Wanzhou, scion of a Chinese telecommunications giant.

On the day he became leader, Xi Jinping gave a speech about his dream for China. "To achieve the China dream," Xi said, "we must take a Chinese path."

That path, Xi went on to say, was forged by decades of Communist rule and thousands of years of Chinese civilization. It's a path that some in Beijing believe has led China straight into a trade war with the world's largest economy.

Beijing is mounting an aggressive influence campaign targeting multiple levels of American society, according to a report published Thursday that is written by some of the top China experts in the U.S.

The working group that compiled the report includes scholars who for decades have agreed that as long as the U.S. continued to engage the People's Republic of China, the paths of both countries would eventually converge and that when they did, China's political system would become more transparent and its society more open.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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When the 37-year-old Chinese woman stepped over China's border into Kazakhstan last July, she felt free.

The woman — who doesn't want NPR to use her name for fear of retaliation by Chinese authorities — says after her husband died in 2015, she was left with two children, a tiny house in the countryside of China's Xinjiang region, and little else. She despaired of her future.

Then she met the man who changed her life. Like her, he was an ethnic Kazakh. Unlike her, he was a citizen of Kazakhstan, from across the border.

When he started at Beijing's Renmin University, one of China's best schools, a freshman scanned a list of student clubs and landed on the one that made him the most excited: Young Marxists.

"I'm from a working-class family in the countryside," he says. "Very few students with my background could have made it to my school. I liked that this group pays attention to the issues of workers and farmers, so I joined."

By the time Chinese guards began torturing Kayrat Samarkand inside a re-education camp last spring, he says his life had prepared him for this.

The ethnic Kazakh grew up in the mountains of China's rural Xinjiang region, just miles away from the border with Kazakhstan. When he was 11 years old, his parents died. A man from his village lured the young orphan to a nearby city with the promise of work and then sold him to a criminal gang of ethnic Uighurs, the predominant ethnic minority in Xinjiang, who managed a network of child thieves throughout China.

A tiny office in the heart of the Kazakh city of Almaty is filled with weary-eyed visitors clutching photos of their missing mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Each morning they arrive, lining up behind two desks staffed with workers who enter their information into a database of the disappeared.

Kalida Akytkhan, 64, clad in a white sweater and matching headscarf, has traveled 300 miles in the hopes that people here can find her two sons.

From a hill overlooking Canberra, Australia's landlocked capital, Clive Hamilton points to the National Carillon, a bell tower that happens to be striking noon, then to a massive glass and concrete monolith.

"That's where ASIO lives," he says, using the common shorthand for Australia's intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

He then points out Australia's federal police building and to a compound in the middle, where China built its embassy.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he will visit Seoul "in the near future," amid an ongoing summit with South Korea's Moon Jae-in in which he also renewed pledges to shut down a primary missile launch site and a key nuclear weapons complex if the U.S. takes "corresponding" measures.

Kim's remarks about traveling to Seoul were made during a news conference in Pyongyang with the South Korean president. It would be the first-ever visit to the South Korean capital by a North Korean head of state.

Farmer Gao Yongfei is paying much closer attention to his more than 5,000 pigs than ever before.

That's because hundreds of pigs at farms nearby are dying from a mysterious virus, and Gao and his staff are now vigilantly checking his herd for symptoms of African swine fever.

"You know the pig is sick if its mouth has turned dark and it's acting crazy," says the 64-year-old owner of Yongfei Livestock Farm. "When you find a pig that has the fever, you need to slaughter it immediately."

At a downtown market in Shanghai, people are hustling to sell their goods. But at this market shaded by trees lining the pathways of People's Park, their goods are their grown children.

"Born in 1985, studied in the U.K., she's short, has a Shanghai residence permit, owns her own apartment," says Mrs. Wang, reading aloud the sign she's taped to an umbrella advertising her unmarried daughter. It's one of hundreds of umbrellas lined up along the park's walkways with similar signs.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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It was on a family trip to Japan when Jui-Ting Hsi's patience with her father Kuo-Jen Hsi reached its limit.

The family, on vacation from Taiwan, had filed into a characteristically silent and crowded subway car in Tokyo when the family patriarch began speaking loudly, attracting a few glances from other passengers.

The order came in April. China's government instructed farmers in the country's northeastern breadbasket region to grow more soybeans, calling it "a political priority."

But soybean fields lay empty in the village of Sandaogou, which means "Three Ditches," in Liaoning province. It has been a dry spring.

"We've had a drought this year, so we planted soybeans late. The seedlings should be out by now. We need more rain," says farmer Liu, who only gives her surname for fear of trouble with local authorities. Soy, after all, has become "political."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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