In China, a Winter of Discontent

With millions stranded by snowstorms and infrastructure problems, antigovernment protests are likely. Will Beijing's apologies defuse the crisis?
Passengers, stranded in the Guangzhou Railway Station, wait below a viaduct outside the station on January 29, 2008 in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, China. PHOTO BY CHINA PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

It has been a remarkable scene. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the unelected leader of China's Communist government, has spent the past two days in damage-control mode as his government copes with a crisis triggered by the worst winter weather in decades. With severe storms slamming train service nationwide, millions of people attempting to return to their family homes for next week's Chinese New Year have been stranded for days in the freezing cold outside train stations in some of China's biggest cities.

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