BEIJING – Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have participated in annual exams to be a State official, a 1,500 year-old competition which this year had fewer candidates than in the past due to the few chances to succeed but also to the ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
In the exam, held on Nov. 30, 1.4 million people had enrolled for the 22,000 jobs up for grabs. This is the lowest number in the last five years.
The exact number of participants who finally gave the exam is not known yet.
In 2013, from 1.5 million pre-registered people only 999,000 gave the exam, a decrease of 130,000 in comparison with 2012.
The fall in number of participants reflects the decreasing interest of Chinese people in civil service.
Official Chinese media attribute the fact to the anti-corruption campaign and austerity in public spending initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Although the campaign affects mainly senior officials, it seems to have reduced the attractiveness of posts which in the past were considered a privilege.
Xi has cut benefits enjoyed by senior officials, including unnecessary banquets, gifts, first-class flights and other perks considered a sign of corruption and social injustice by citizens.
Another reason for the decline is the increase in requirements to fill in some of the posts, such as a two-year experience above the provincial level.
Over the past few years the duties of civil servants and senior officials have toughened to such an extent that some have died of exhaustion or committed suicide due to stress.
“Many people think that a government job will give material benefits, but this is not so for those who work in core politics, who in fact lead a very hard life,” Professor Sun Xiaoli of the Chinese Academy of Governance told the China Daily.
On the other hand, the rise in large private companies in China, often with better working conditions, good wages and more challenging work, makes many Chinese people opt for multinationals like Huawei Wanda or Alibaba instead of the government.
Lifetime tenures for civil servants were scrapped in 2003 in a bid to improve the efficiency of public workers.
The Chinese public examination system is based on the philosophy of Confucius, a revolutionary in his time (V-IV centuries BC), who recommended a “meritocratic” society in which the most skillful people ruled, not the heirs of privileges.
In imperial times, job seekers would spend up to 72 hours in endless tests, rigorously monitored and locked up for weeks in cells to avoid all contact and assistance from the outside.
In some periods, exams were so tough that only 2 percent passed each year, and students would repeat the test for decades, even when they were old.
The system, which resisted Maoism and has remained to date, allowed a large part of Chinese society to join the “nobility” of bureaucrats.
However, years of confinement prevented the students, once they passed, to become leaders close to the people.