March 27th, 2012 | Global Times Golden rice bowl drains away talent
The Chinese media was abuzz earlier this month with the story of a 57-year-old woman from Hebei Province who had traveled to Chongqing 10 times in the last three years, to beg her young son to come back home and work in a State-owned enterprise. But her young son just wanted to make his own way in the world, and kept hiding from his mother.
The story exemplifies the archetypal confrontation between two generations: Parents stick to the dream of a “golden rice bowl” and prioritize stable, insipid jobs in government-backed organizations, whereas youngsters want to embrace wider challenges.
But today this perception may have shifted. Many of my contemporaries seem keener on the golden rice bowl than ever.
The other day a friend called me, saying that she had passed the civil servant exam in Shanghai. Soon she’ll become the ninth civil servant among my friends. She’s had a few jobs since graduation, and now she has decided to stay in officialdom for life.
I don’t know if I should be happy for her. She’s lucky to make it through the fierce competition of the civil servant exam, but meanwhile, the young woman who once vowed to make her mark in the financial industry has disappeared.
Another friend, a law graduate from a top Chinese college, wasn’t content with his job. He took the civil servant exam three times, and finally entered a government department in Shanghai.
Another civil servant friend, who once worked at KPMG after graduating from a college in Switzerland, wanted to have a baby. At that time, her female boss in her 30s couldn’t get pregnant after having an abortion due to working pressure. Seeing this, my friend determinedly quit her job and took a civil servant exam. Now her daughter is about to attend primary school.
Young people know that the “golden rice bowl” is not as valuable as before. Online, one can easily find tons of complaints from civil servants, claiming that the extraordinarily high benefits are just ungrounded hearsay.
In Shanghai, the annual income of an ordinary civil servant is only average for an office job, and their promotion process is much slower than those in law or accounting firms.
Yet this hardly hinders people’s steps toward the goal of getting tizhinei, “inside the system.” Each year tons of college graduates rush to various cities, trying to seize a tizhinei job anywhere they can. Flyers advertising classes for the civil servant examinations are everywhere.
And in recent years, many civil service posts have also been opened to experienced personnel as well as fresh graduates. In the crammed examination halls, you can see many older faces, still chasing the dream of getting into the system.
Years ago when I was a college student, my parents frequently lectured me on how nothing is better than being a decent, stable civil servant.
I wasn’t convinced at all, like most of my generation. But then once we hit graduation, suddenly everyone was rushing to take the civil service exams, even those who once had high-flying dreams of making their own way in the world.
Professor Zhang Weiying from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University once said that in the past 200 years, the growth of developed countries could largely be attributed to the flow of top talent to enterprises, whereas in China, the smartest people still work for the government. As a result, the West has made their enterprises powerful, whereas we’ve made our government powerful.
I don’t totally agree. There’s a lot of first-rate talent outside the system. But the government is indeed attracting more top talent.
The quality of civil servants may improve as a result. But we’re not making the best use of our talent; instead it’s being drained into an often stagnant and uncreative system, instead some talent is being wasted in uncreative posts, rather than flowing where it’s most needed.
By Li Lu