Chinese civil servants in the eyes of ordinary Chinese

December 4, 2012Jing GaoNo Comments, , ,

On November 23 and 24, over 1.12 million Chinese across the country flooded to universities and schools to take the annual national civil service exam and jostle with one another for 20,839 positions. This amounts to a chance in every 54 people. But for some plum jobs, such as those at the customs and the taxation bureaus, the competition is extremely fierce – acceptance rates can be as low as one in 8,000.

In fact, civil service is so coveted in China that the chief of Guangdong province’s Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security not long ago famously said, “China’s civil servants are the elites of Chinese. The civil service is joined by people of the highest education and caliber in China.”

People line up outside a national civil service exam site at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, on Sunday. [Photo/China Daily]

Even people already in easy circumstances are eager to hop onto the grave train. At Ningbo’s test site, many luxury cars can be spotted, including one Bentley, whose owner said he had altogether taken six such exams. But the mother of his girlfriend told him that she would not accept him as his son-in-law, unless he passes the exam and becomes a civil servant.

Another software engineer in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, whose annual income at an IT company was about 150,000 yuan, or almost 3.5 times higher than the local average, quit his job and took the exam . He said that being a software engineer means having to work overtime and eat fast food every day, not to mention the fear of getting fired, “When I graduated, I disdained my classmates for taking the exam to become a civil servant. But so many years of fighting in the society has taught me a stable and secure life is what I really need.”

Stability and security are probably the two words that are most often associated with the job of a civil servant. Besides, it is tacit understanding that despite their meager income relative to their foreign counterparts, Chinese civil servants are entitled to great benefits, including 13-month salary, all types of festival bonuses, the best health insurance (almost full coverage), the best medical services, affordable housing and subsidies. In addition, many of them can have their palms greased, by people who turn to them for ‘help’. Earlier last month, China Central Television, China’s state broadcaster, interviewed a bunch of people in the street for their impressions of civil servants. Below are answers that really go home.


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“A civil servant, in my impression, can go slowly to work every day. Pour a cup of tea. Unfold a newspaper. After finishing reading it, then eat his lunch. Then he can call it a day.”

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“Civil servant is (holding) an iron rice bowl.”

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“They feed on imperial rations.”

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“The yields they harvest are guaranteed, be it drought or flood.”

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“There is no need to say these things out. As long as you understand it deep down.”

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Civil servant? This is so far away from us.

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Should I tell the truth or a lie?

Civil servants themselves seem to agree with such impressions. A report issued by the Counseling Center for the Mental Health of Central Organ Employees shows that 74,1% of civil servants consider themselves very happy about their life.

Of course, many Chinese do not necessarily desire a job inside Chinese bureaucracy, which is monotonous, rigid and highly hierarchical. One net user cleverly summed up things he hates about becoming a civil servant:

1, Being deaf. Working in government organs, you should never hear things you are not supposed to hear.

2, Being mute. Young people have active minds and are full of ideas. But in government organs, if you speak too much about your thoughts, you will easily become a target of jealousy.

3, Being bind. Because of the maladies of the system, the absence of rule of law and influence of Chinese social customs, you may see many regrettable or unsatisfying things happen, but you have to turn a blind eye, because you cannot do anything to change it.

4, Being dumb. Despite the fact that those who pass the civil service exam these days hold college degrees or even master’s and doctoral degrees, you are nobody but an ignorant cub to your superior. He thinks he is better and smarter than you even if he did not complete high school. And you can only keep your head down and play dumb.

5, Being crippled. No matter what your major was back at college, or how great your grades are, after you join the civil service, you will slowly lose your academic knowledge. Years later, except some hollow diplomatic handling skills in the officialdom, you become intellectually crippled.

6, Being an actor. You have to prepare yourself many masks for working in government organs. Wear different masks on different occasions and play your parts while wasting away your youth.

7, Being fat. Being leisurely and well-fed all day, one is destined to get fat.

8, Being a ladder. In the civil service workforce, if you fail to work yourself up the ladder, you will always be others’ ladder to advancement.


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