- 1.56 million people have applied to take China’s five-hour civil service exam this year.
- The exam is the first step in getting a coveted government job, known as a “iron rice bowl” because of the stability and benefits despite the low pay.
- There are less than 30,000 jobs available to exam applicants in 2017.
- Civil service exams are also held in South Korea and the Philippines every year.
More than 1.5 million people in China have applied to sit for this year’s five-hour civil-service exam.
The yearly test is the first step in landing a coveted government job, or “iron rice bowl,” as it is commonly described in China. These jobs tend to provide long-term stability.
In China, civil-service employees receive better health benefits and pension plans. Some even receive free meals and accommodation. All candidates must be Chinese citizens with a junior college degree aged between 18 and 35.
The exam has two parts: an aptitude test with 135 multiple-choice questions on maths, world affairs, language, and logic that lasts two hours. Test-takers have another three hours to write a polic essay.
After the exam, successful applicants proceed to specialised tests and interviews for specific departments.
This year, 1.38 million people were approved to sit for the exam on December 10, but with 28,533 jobs available nationwide, the chance of getting a job is slim; there are 48 exam-takers per available job.
According to the state-run China Daily, one position at the Liaison Office of the International Cooperation Department of the China Family Planning Association, is particularly sought-after with 2,666 applicants.
In 2016, the most popular job at a reception office attracted nearly 10,0000 applications.
Due to reforms, private-sector jobs were popular in the the 1980s and 1990s, but exam applications have skyrocketed since the beginning of the 21st century. In 2004, just 120,000 people sat for the exam.
The number of available jobs has also been steadily increasing each year, partly due to party members ageing and retiring.
Financial stability does not mean you’ll be well-paid
The stability that China’s government jobs provide is so coveted that many people who could be seen as overqualified – those with masters degrees and PhDs, for example – also tend to apply. However, that doesn’t mean these jobs actually pay well.
The raise, to almost double the previous salary base, was part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown. The hope was that. by raising salaries, officials would be less inclined to capitulate to bribes.
China’s civil-service exam originated in Imperial China
China’s civil-service exam is not a modern invention. For more than 1,200 years, China ran examinations for positions in every administrative level. The idea behind them was to encourage hiring that was merit-based, rather than being influenced by a family’s connections or background.
Even in Imperial China, millions of men applied to take the exams. And while many failed to ever receive a job in China’s administration (despite some clever attempts to cheat), the benefits to those who studied were long-lasting.
“One of the unintended consequences of the examinations was that it created legions of classically literate men who used their linguistic talents for a variety of non-official purposes: from physicians to pettifoggers, from fiction writers to examination essay teachers, and from ritual specialists to lineage agents,” wrote Benjamin Elman, an expert in Chinese studies at Princeton University.
The exams were only abolished in 1905, before being overhauled and reintroduced decades later.
Mass exams aren’t uncommon in Asia
China isn’t the only Asian country to hold civil-service exams en masse.
The Philippines runs a twice-yearly Career Service Examination-Pen and Paper Test, open to anyone over 18, regardless of education level.
South Korea also runs exams to be able to apply for government jobs, including police and fire departments. A government position is “considered an honour for a person’s entire family”according to Korea Times.
This year, more than 600,000 people said they were preparing to take the exam. There’s even an Exam Village where people temporarily relocate in order to study.
China and Korea also run mass university entrance exams, an offshoot of the civil-service exams.
Just last week South Korea’s national university entrance exam was halted after a severe earthquake hit Seoul.
Think you could ace the exam? You can answer some of the questions here »
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