Domestic Affairs

Overheated civil servants exam: Cons outweigh pros

By Zhang Xi (
Updated: 2010-11-02 16:10
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The phrase "thousands of people forcing their way across a narrow foot bridge" has always been used to describe China's annual national college entrance exam. However, in recent years, the phrase has also become an appropriate label for another once-a-year test, the civil servants examination.

According to official figures, the number of qualified applicants who registered to take the 2011 national civil servants examination surpassed 1 million as of Oct 23, one day before the deadline, as this year's number is likely to surpass last year's 1.46 million. Two most sought-after positions—one with the National Energy Administration and the other with the Ministry of Culture—received 4,261 and 3,556 applicants, respectively.

Why is the exam so attractive? There are probably three main reasons. First, more than 10 percent of the 5 million to 6 million college graduates face unemployment after graduation. Thus, many of them view the exam as a good alternative to the tough job-hunting competition to secure stable jobs.

The tough employment future of graduates may reflect a certain development level in China, in which society has a limited ability to absorb the labor force. And the soaring number of graduates cultivated by universities' enrollment expansion put big pressures on the employment market in recent years. Thus the country has a long way to go to find ways to create more jobs. Only with enough options can Chinese graduates follow their foreign counterparts, to consider jobs in business, finance, social service and NGOs as their first choices. These jobs may have their own advantages over the civil service, including higher salaries, better development opportunities and more clear interpersonal relationship.

Second, some people's excessive pursuit of civil servant positions can be attributed to the tradition of power worship. In their eyes, one's position decides all; it is the only criterion of one's success. This kind of thought is not rare since the power-based doctrine, which has lasted for thousands of years in feudal China, is still deep-rooted in today's social structure.

Third, it is believed that a civil servant holds a life-long "gold rice bowl". They are less likely to face unemployment, which is the biggest risk of employees in enterprises. Besides, civil servants can enjoy various social benefits, including low housing prices.

As for those potential civil servants who only want to benefit from civil service, they only wish to enjoy the "cake" of society, rather than making it themselves. Their aim of contributing their knowledge and intelligence to distribution rather than production should not be encouraged.

Also, our government willingly lures as many talents as possible to work for it. According to official figures, a total of 137 central authorities and institutions plan to recruit 16,000 civil servants in 2011, 1,000 more than in 2010. From a positive perspective, the most excellent applicants can be recruited through the tough exams to improve the overall qualifications of civil servants and enhance governance capability.

However, on the other hand, over-hiring civil servants is not good for our country, for its most obvious result is overstaffed organs. For example, in October, a county-level toll station in Zhejiang province was found to employ 113 staff members to do the work that can be done by 60 people. Overstaffing in government organizations not only wastes social resources, but in terms of employment, the government is competing with society. One man's loss is another man's gain. With too many talents working as civil servants, society will lack the proper quantity and quality of human resources.

In order to cool down the heat of civil servants exam, government may reduce surplus personnel and benefits, and make civil servants a "vocation" rather than a "career," to encourage talents to be in every corner of society rather than working for the government only. Otherwise, social vitality and creativity will be negatively affected.