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Millions of Chinese can not return native home for festive gatherings
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Millions of Chinese had to say "sorry" to their beloved ones on Wednesday as the whole nation was greeting the Lunar New Year's Eve, because they have been forced to give up plans to return native home for festive gatherings due to the coldest winter in 50 years.


More than 12 million migrant workers chose to stay put in southern Guangdong Province, which reports a total of about 30 million migrant workers, according to the Guangdong Provincial Department of Labor and Social Security.


In Shenzhen, neighboring Hong Kong, about 2 million migrant workers expressed willingness to stay, and in the financial center of Shanghai, about 120,000 migrant workers chose not to go home.


"I miss my little daughter very much. She is only one year and a half. I cannot wait to go home and see her," said Wang Xiaoli, a toy factory worker in Guangdong's Nanhai City who is from Pingdingshan, central China's Henan Province.


"But when I arrived at the Guangzhou Railway Station a few days ago, I was astounded to see so many people waiting for trains, and I couldn't get through the crowd," she said.


Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong with one of the biggest concentrations of the country's numerous migrant farmer workers, is the southern terminal of a trunk railway line that runs northward to Beijing. The number of stranded passengers at the Guangzhou Railway Station had once reached 600,000 as 136 electric trains came to a standstill in central China's Hunan Province on Jan. 26 when local power supply system was damaged by continuous snowfall and icy rain.


"My husband called me from Henan that he and our daughter are both going well. He asked me not to feel worry or sorry but just stay in the factory in a happy mood," Wang said.


More than 1,000 workers in the factory who came outside Guangdong will stay put, like Wang. The factory have prepared a variety of activities for them to greet the festival including visiting local parks, tug of war and badminton contest, in addition to feasts and cash given by the factory boss, Wang said.


"Maybe I will go home a few days later, because, after all, the weather has turned better and trains have begun running again," she added.


Wednesday also marks the start of the nation's week-long holiday of the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, the most important festival for family gatherings in China.


Millions of others who have luckily bought tickets were catching time and rushing home by plane, train and coach, or waiting for departure at airports, railway stations and bus depots following transport resumption. They were eager to get home sooner and eat "nianyefan," or the evening dinner on Lunar New Year's Eve, with relatives -- a tradition cherished by Chinese for thousands of years.


2008 is the Year of the Rat, according to the lunar calendar. The rat is the first of the 12-year cycle of 12 animals appearing in the Chinese zodiac, the ox second, and the pig last.


China has about 200 million migrant workers out of the country's 1.3 billion population. For many of them, the Spring Festival holiday is the only chance to see their beloved family members all the year round.


But this year, their steps toward home were held back by freak winter weather featuring prolonged snow, rain and sleet since mid-January in China's eastern, central and southern regions, which downed power lines, covered roads with thick ice, brought trains, buses and planes to standstill and stranded millions of people.


Under such circumstances, migrant workers were advised by government to stay in cities where they work to reduce transport chaos, like Wang Xiaoli.


The snow havoc, the worst in five decades, and even in a century in few areas, has led to deaths, structural collapses, blackouts, accidents, transport problems and livestock and crop losses in 19 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.


More than 100 million people have been affected, and at least 60 people have died in the freezing weather.


(Xinhua News Agency February 6, 2008)

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