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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

河南大学民生学院官方微博:普京曾说过:一个国家报考公务员的热度,代表了这个国家的腐败程度。

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

Ma:恨贪官,又拚命报考公务员;骂垄断,又削减脑袋往高薪单位钻;讥讽不正之风,自己办事却忙找关系。总之,愤怒,不是因为觉得不公平,而是觉得自己处在不公平中的不利位置,不是想消灭这种不公平,而是想让自己处在不公平中的有利位置。这种骨子里的自私,才真正应该反思。

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

 主时:如果一个国家的优秀人才都想去挤公务员这条桥,那说明体制已经有很大问题了。国外是一流人才经商,二流的才去从政。说明要不就是经商不好赚钱,要不就是体制很好养人.

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.

 曲敬东:说明两个问题:1、公务员群体的独特价值已经形成超强影响力;2、中国经济已经到了最坏时期,民营经济地位低下。物极必反,否极泰来。有远见的年轻人应该看到市场经济的繁荣时代即将到来,贪官污吏的好日子已快到尽头。

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 dhgate.com, Wang Shutong felt sad about situation:

无论是年轻人还是家长,都把体制等同于安全感,纷纷向体制内寻找安全感。多年前被抛弃的陈旧观念,如今又被捡了回来。而若干年后价值回归时,今天这些期待旱涝保收、向体制要一生安全的年轻人,多半会成为最悲催的一族。有媒体问我一些关于国考热的问题,我不是社会学家,只是从企业家和过来人的角度,感到既无奈又有些悲哀。如果年轻一代纷纷走向国考这一独木桥,怎么指望优秀人才正常流向民营企业、创业企业呢?

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:

如果不能彻底转变政府职能,真正依法行政,公务员靠权力寻租获得的政策红利就永远不能消失,成为国考热的直接动因。假如这些决定中国最关键的职位最终都落在好逸恶劳的功利之徒手里,只会加速权力运行的恶性循环。即使最优秀的官场人才,在现行体制下,也会努力将自己塑造成溜须拍马、内心贪婪的恶官。

西方国家的年轻人纷纷涌向企业,远离体制,创造社会财富;中国的年轻人却挤破头涌向政府,挤进体制,觊觎社会财富。于是,西方国家把企业做大了,国民富裕了;而中国把政府做大了,当官的都富裕了。“国考热”高烧不退背后,折射的是公务员收入分配的优越性,一些人挤过独木桥为人民服务是假,为自己升官发财才真,本该消灭的“灰色收入”却成了吸引千军万马的原动力。七成人认为“有钱不如有权”则凸显官本位思想严重。改变人人争当仆人的“不正常状态”,需要更透明公开的选拔和更公平正义的分配机制。

 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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