In China, government jobs have long been a big draw for people wanting to move up the ladder in society. Apart from power and privilege, it is no secret that the jobs offer plenty of chances to amass wealth. Many civil servants earn much more than what they take home as official salaries. The hidden benefits need not always be cash; they can also come in the form of coupons or ‘allowances’.
With the craze for high living, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the civil service exams annually in recent years, aiming for the jackpot. The annual National Public Servant Exam includes an aptitude test and a policy essay. Those who pass the written exam will have to go through a tough interview process before they can land a job in the government.
In 2012, more than 1.5 million people are said to have registered to take the exam, more than 30 times the number sitting for the test a decade ago.
But now, observers are noting that the rush has abated somewhat in the wake of President Xi Jinping’s eight-point mandate to curb extravagance and officialdom.
Xinhua reports that this year there has been a noticeable drop in the number of candidates attending civil servant recruitment exams in some provinces.
It is said that a customs official in a provincial capital city in central China now earns just 3,600 yuan (US$578) per month. Following Xi’s frugality drive, all overtime work allowance, year-end bonus and other ad hoc red packet cash have all been scrapped. Some people have even complained that with such a salary, it’s hard to find a girlfriend. The introduction of performance appraisal also means that you may lose your “iron rice bowl”.
It’s still too early to conclude that working for the government is no longer the big dream. In fact, even in the past there had been times when there was a drop in popularity of civil servant jobs. In the early 1990s, for instance, many officials quit their jobs and joined private companies either for better career prospects or for bigger pay when the nation deepened its economic reforms.
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