Focus topics

Civil servant, the new dream job

What is the best job that most Chinese parents wish for their children? The answer is civil service. Although Chinese parents can’t choose their children’s career path on their behalf, the old generation’s opinion still carries considerable weight.  

A government job’s advantages include stability, no worries of lay-off; good benefits and high social status, the parents would say. Some may even add: If you are lucky, you may one day climb to a high position in the government and become someone powerful.  

Until five years ago, many young people would still dismiss the advice lightly. The conservative culture and strict hierarchy in the government were suffocating, they would argue. The dream jobs for most of them at that time were in the IT giants such as Alibaba and Tencent, which offered irresistible remuneration packages and also represented the future. Simply put, rich and cool. 

However, the government’s heavy crackdown on the private sector during the past few years has not only made these companies less attractive, but also led to their downsizing and much fewer new open positions.  Moreover, an economic slowdown due to the country’s harsh Covid measures has made competition for any decent job very fierce.  

As a result, the popularity of government jobs soared. Many young people who used to scoff at moms’ obsession with these jobs have come around.

Civil service exams like in imperial times

Results of the 2023 exams for admissions to the civil service at the central government were published earlier this month. More than 2.5 million applicants took part in the exams, representing a galloping leap of 25 percent from 2022. This year, they fought for 37,000 posts (two-thirds of them are reserved for 2023 college and university graduates), which means less than 1.5 percent of the job-seekers would get the job they wanted.  

Competition for posts at governments of provincial and lower levels is generally also intense. These exams, for both central and local, are quite demanding. Training for exam-takers has become a lucrative business. 

Moderate salary, but many benefits

Government jobs didn’t become popular overnight. As the benefits for officials gradually improved since the 1990s, civil service also attracted a steadily increasing number of applicants. The civil service admission exams were introduced around the same time. Nominal salaries of Chinese government officials are not high. However, if all sorts of benefits are considered, their jobs are indeed quite good ones. For example, officials at certain levels and above are entitled to purchase apartments at prices much lower than at the market; They enjoy almost free medical service, while private sector employees must pay as much as 30 percent of the bill by themselves even with public medical insurance; Pensions of civil servants are also significantly higher than those of others.      

The only institutions that are comparable to governments in terms of benefits are State-owned companies. Jobs at these companies, stable and well-paid, are, of course, also hotly sought-after.  

The preferential treatment that civil servants got during the Covid lockdowns in the past three years provided a further vivid, hard lesson to all about who are the real privileged: While many other residents couldn’t get enough food for weeks, families of government officials didn’t need to worry at all. They were among the first group of people to be catered to.  

However, government jobs these days are also not easy ones. Long overtime and work during the weekend are not uncommon, though not as bad as in the corporate sector. Apart from regular business, officials also have to, from time to time, participate in study sessions for the latest guidelines of the communist party and thoughts of the top leader, and write essays afterward.  


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