China / Society

Has 'civil servant fever' cooled down?

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-10-16 16:17

BEIJING - The annual application for China's civil service examination started on Wednesday with at least 22,200 government spots to fill.

In the past the exam attracted scores of fresh college graduates, with a record of more than 1.5 million candidates competing for some 19,000 posts in 2013.

This years's application, however, kicks off amid China's ongoing crackdown on officials' extra perks, pomp dining and extravagance.

With the addition of China's reform drive to let the market better play a decisive role, some predict that there will be a drop of applicants this year.

But Sun Xiaoli, a professor with Chinese Academy of Governance, expects civil servant fever to continue. The frenzy was mainly caused not by officials' invisible perks but by its job security and respectable social status, she said.

"Many people take it for granted that material benefits will come with a post in the government, but for those working at the grassroots level, it is not the case. On the contrary, they lead a very hard life," said Sun.

While the exam helps select a large number of high-quality civil servants, many people have feared it may hamper China's innovative spirit.

Even Edmund Phelps, a Nobel Laureate in economics, slammed the frenzy of civil servant applicants in 2013, saying fresh-graduates applying to become civil servants are wasting their talent.

One reason why so many fresh graduates prefer landing a government post is that it is too difficult to find a good job, said Yin Weimin, China's human resources and social security minister in a previous interview with Xinhua.

Employment has always been a key issue considered by Chinese leaders. In a time of flat growth, there is no bigger topic.

In March, Premier Li Keqiang admitted the employment situation is tough while delivering a government work report to the country's top legislature. He said a record 7.27 million college students will join the job-hunting this year.

Li also said "pursuing government office and making money have been 'two separate paths' since ancient times" when meeting the press after first assuming office in 2013.

The anti-corruption campaign has made it less comfortable to be a civil servant, but for those eager to nab a government post, the exam is tied to many more.

One college graduate from Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture who was attending an exam preparation workshop, told Beijing News he applied the exam in the hope of obtaining a Beijing hukou, or a registered permanent residence. The registration is tied with much of the city's welfare services.

However, civil servant fever is showing signs of cooling, according to Zhang Yongsheng, a civil service exam expert with Zhonggong Education. "With the development of civil servant recruitment, there will be fewer blind followers."

For many college graduates, applying to sit the exam is only an option in their graduate plan, which also includes attending graduate school or going abroad to further study. In fact, many applicants even abstained from attending written tests.

Last November, more than 400,000 who had signed up for the test ended up not taking it, making the actual exam takers even fewer than the year before.

There appears the fact that holding the "iron bowl" of being a civil servant is less secure than the past.

Wu Jiang, executive vice president of China Talent Research, said civil servants, as a profession, should not be particular about salaries and pay, rather it is about service spirit. "In this sense, many applicants are not qualified to become a civil servant."

Wu said that in the 1980s, a large number of government officials "jumped into the sea," a term used to describe those who left their government posts for better pay in the business fields. He wonders whether the case will be the same in the future remains to be seen.

Professor Sun suggests reforming the current civil servant recruitment system in a way to decrease officials' with power worship.


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