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Why Are Government Jobs in China So Popular?

On Nov 25, 2012, about 1.12 million Chinese sat the National Public Servant Exam, an increase of 150,000 from last year, according to a State Administration of Civil Service official. Most candidates are university students; they are competing for about 20,000 government vacancies.

More than 1.5 million people registered to take the exam, South China Morning Post reported – a record – and more than 30 times the number sitting the exam a decade ago.

The annual National Public Servant Exam includes an aptitude test and a written policy essay, and those who pass the written exam will have to pass a tough interview process before they can get a government job.

Thousands of college graduates flock to take the civil servant exam in China. Screen capture of CCTV news feature.

Enthusiasm towards the exam has also triggered heated discussion in Chinese social media and blogospheres where netizens explore the deeper reason behind its popularity. Many say it is an indicator of heavy government corruption where a civil servant with even an average salary can enjoy a good life due to the position’s special benefits and power. Others mention negative attitudes in society towards private companies and entrepreneurship.

Below are some selected quotes from Weibo, China's version of Twitter [zh]:

The Corruption of the System


Henan University Official Weibo: Putin once said: ‘The popularity of a country’s government jobs indicates how corrupt the country is. ‘


Ma: We hate corrupt officials, yet we desperately apply for the position as civil servants; we curse monopoly, yet we try every way possible to join the well-paid state enterprises; we make fun of the hidden rules in society, yet we are busy looking for guanxi [personal connections]. This makes me angry, not because I think that is not fair, but because when we are in a disadvantaged position, we are not trying to eliminate the inequality, but trying to gain a favorable position in the unfair system. Such selfishness deserves our reflection.

 白岩松评国考热:人人争当公仆 它可能不是仆人

CCTV host Bai Yansong indirectly provokes thoughts: “When everyone wants to be a ‘civil servant,’ it probably is not a servant after all.”

The Worries of Private Companies


Zhushi: If many outstanding talents in a country all try so hard to seek government jobs, that means there’s a big problem with the system. In foreign countries, usually first-rate talents become entrepreneurs, the second-rate talents work for the government. This indicates that in China, either it’s hard to make money at private companies or it’s really easy to make money as a government employee.


Qu Jindong: It indicates two problems: first, the special value of civil servants has formed a surpassing influence. Second, the Chinese economy has reached its worst period: private companies have a lower status. However, once things are at their worst, the situation has to improve. Thoughtful young people should see the power of the market-oriented economy; the days of corrupt officials will quickly come to an end.

CEO of, Wang Shutong felt sad about situation:


Both young people and parents think the system provides a sense of security. These outdated concepts were abandoned years ago, but now they’re coming back. Years later, those young people who pursue lifelong security will probably become the saddest and most pathetic group. The media asked me what I thought about the popularity of government jobs in China, I'm not a sociologist, but as an entrepreneur and someone who has some experience, I feel helpless and quite sad to hear the news. If the younger generation all seek to pass along this “single-plank bridge” [i.e. government jobs], how do we expect talented people to flow to private enterprises and start-ups?

Famous commentator Shi Shusi echoed with Wang:



 If we cannot completely change the way the government functions and adhere to the rule of law, civil servants will always abuse power for their own benefits, which is the direct cause of popularity of the exam. If these most critical government positions fall to those who always seek their own interests, it will only accelerate the vicious cycle of the abuse of power. Even the most outstanding talents under the current system will end up becoming sycophants and greedy officials.

Young people in Western countries flock to the enterprises to create social wealth; China's young people squeeze into the government to covet social wealth. When enterprises become bigger in the West, the country becomes rich; in China, the government becomes rich. The exam fever indicates the superiority of the civil servants’ income distribution. They are not here to serve people, but for their own career and fortune. “Gray income” is the motivation and the mighty force behind the millions of exam-takers. People’s perception that “power is more important than money” indicates serious social problems. We need to be more transparent and open in their selection and more fair and just in the distribution of income.

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