China / Society

Time to rethink China's 'civil servant fever'

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-10-21 16:40

BEIJING - This year's ten-day registration period for the national civil service examination will run until Friday with at least 22,200 government spots to be filled, a new historical high.

Nearly 340,000 people applied to take the exam as of Monday morning, about 100,000 fewer applicants than at the same time last year, according to Zhonggong Education, a test preparation company.  


Getting a government job has been an attainable dream for ordinary Chinese since 1994, when the country introduced the national civil service examination.

Time to rethink China's 'civil servant fever'

Has 'civil servant fever' cooled down?

Time to rethink China's 'civil servant fever'

What does it take to become a civil servant in China?
Millions of candidates have signed up to sit the cut-throat exam to join the country's team of more than seven million civil servants over the past few years. The job is seen as an opportunity for a stable life, good pension plan, handsome salary, and upward mobility.

After graduating from a well-known university in Beijing in 2010, Li Jia passed the civil service examination and became a civil servant at a community office in Wanpingcheng in the city's Fengtai District.

While many Chinese young people might envy her position, every morning and afternoon the 26-year-old struggles to get on an overcrowded train to go to a job she doesn't like.

"I didn't think deeply when I received the acceptance letter. For fresh graduates, getting a government job is popular," she said. "A Beijing hukou, or a registered permanent residence, and good welfare system are what attracted me to civil service."

But being a civil servant at the grassroots level has been quite different from her expectations.

Li's routine duties, which include collecting documents, writing reports, attending meetings and answering phone calls, have nothing to do with her English major.

Like many, she considered civil service a nine-to-five job with little pressure. Applicants like Li have chased this "easy" job with good welfare and high social status for decades.

Local media reported in 2012 that only 2 percent of college graduates in Singapore are willing to apply to be a civil servant. The figure is 3 percent and 5.3 percent in the US and France respectively. In the UK, civil servant is one of the twenty least-favored jobs among university students. However, in China, 76.4 percent of college graduates want the job.

Official statistics show that an average of 57 candidates competed for each government post last year. In 2003, the figure was only 16 hopefuls competing for a post.

People stereotype civil servants, said Zhang Yan, a researcher with the Shaanxi Academy of Social Sciences.

"Most candidates are keen on the job for the good welfare and the 'power' it can bring about," said Zhang.


Since Xi Jinping took the helm of the CPC in November 2012, the Party has made a series of detailed regulations to uproot bureaucratic and extravagant work styles among government workers, such as requiring officials to travel with smaller entourages, simplifying receptions and practicing frugality.

When Li Jia first took the job, her monthly salary was as low as 1,700 yuan (about 274 US dollars). She has been affected by China's ongoing crackdown on officials' extra perks, dinner receptions and extravagance.

"The welfare system is not as good as before and my annual salary is rather low," Li said, adding that she has to live with other two people in a small room to save money.

"Fewer applicants this year means that more people treat this exam rationally," said Wu Wenbin, an expert from Zhonggong. "It can give more opportunities to test takers who really want to work for the country and people."

Weng Simin, a senior student from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, registered for the exam after deep consideration.

"I find it difficult to hunt for jobs in big companies as an archives management major. Government departments have a higher demand for this major, and I can apply my learning on the job," she said.

Zhang Yan said it is time to abandon the thought that being a civil servant is an easy job, adding that the most important quality for the job is the willingness to serve the people.

Zhang believes that the civil servant "fever" will cool down and the "iron rice bowl" will be broken with reform of the administrative system. "Actually, the change has already started."

In order to improve herself and seek new opportunities, Li Jia is pursuing postgraduate study at Tsinghua University while working.

"The civil service examination is just the first step to enter the system. In the long term, you have to be fully prepared to take on lots of responsibilities as a qualified civil servant," Li added.

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