News You Really Need To See: “Civil Servants: Who Wants to Be a Mandarin?”

“Civil Servants: Who Wants to Be a Mandarin?”

The Economist, June 6-12, 2015, p.35

“Government jobs have long been prized in China.  Most years new records are set for the number of people sitting civil-service exams.  University students, for all their disenchantment with politics, have been flocking to join the Communist Party in the hope of getting a leg-up into the bureaucracy.  Such a career has offered security and perks aplenty.  The only drawback has been pitifully low wages.  This month officials are to get their first pay rises in nearly a decade; even so, many are heading for the door.  Students are showing signs of losing interest in the career.  Civil servants are anxious.  The reason is President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption, the most intense and sustained in the party’s history.  It has made it harder to trouser the bribes that have traditionally supplemented those meagre official salaries.  Many civil servants now fear a knock on the door by agents of the party’s anti-corruption department.  In 2014 it punished 232,000 officials, 30% more than in the previous year.  That was still only about 3% of officialdom, but the publicity surrounding these cases has compounded anxieties.  Many officials are being taken, with their spouses, to learn a lesson by visiting their former colleagues in prison.  A Chinese job-search website,, reported that in the three weeks after the lunar new-year holiday in February more than 10,000 government workers quit their jobs to seek greener pastures, mainly in the finance, property and technology industries—an increase of nearly one-third over the same period in 2014.  The company attributed this to a new emphasis on frugality in government work. … For the most recent annual exam for the national civil service, held on November 30th, there were 1.4m applicants, 110,000 fewer than the previous year.  Of those, more than one-third failed to show up.  There were 40 test-takers for each available position, the lowest ratio in nine years.  As recently as 2010 it stood at 59:1.  Recent opinion polls have found respondents born in the 1990s to be much less keen on civil-service careers than their elders.”

Quickie analysis:  Perhaps the most concrete evidence that Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is perceived as more than cosmetic.  

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