By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 12, 2012

Massive crowds gather at Apple’s five stores in the world’s largest mobile phone market

UPDATED with amazing photos from Beijing by Feng Li via the Mercury News.

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Penn Olson‘s Steven Millward reports from Shanghai that crowds several city blocks long have formed outside Apple’s (AAPL) stores in Beijing and Shanghai hours before the scheduled release of the iPhone 4S Friday morning.

Although China Unicom (CHU) will begin selling the device for heavily subsidized prices at midnight — eight hours earlier — most Chinese buyers seem to be congregating at Apple’s own stores, perhaps to get the unlocked versions that only Apple sells.

It could be long, cold night. According to Millward, temperatures are supposed to drop to 3°C (37°F) overnight in Shanghai and even lower in Beijing.

To cut down on line-jumping — and to keep the scalpers in check — staffers at several stores have been handing out tickets to customers who’ve queued up early.

More photos here and here.

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