Serving tea and receiving guests may not be everyone’s dream job, but it was a good enough prospect to make nearly 10,000 people apply for one receptionist job.
China’s highly competitive civil service recruitment process recently saw a record-setting 9,837 applicants for a post as “China Democratic League public reception staff”.
The Democratic League is one of several minority political parties in the country which have very limited powers, and is hardly seen as a prestigious placement.
So why are so many people hoping to be its receptionist?
It’s an easy job
With so many applicants every year and China’s ongoing anti-corruption drive, government departments have started to become more stringent in their hiring, asking for graduates with higher qualifications and more specific skills.
“Some jobs have attracted many people because they have broader requirements for education and professional and work experience,” civil service spokesman Li Zhong told People’s Daily.
Anyone with a bachelor’s degree and two years of “grassroots experience” can apply for the Democratic League job, according to reports.
Meanwhile, 223 openings saw hardly any interested applicants – these included bank regulatory and meteorological jobs in more far-flung regions such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.
Mr Li acknowledged that these remained vacant because of their “more arduous locations”.
Also, there are just a lot of jobseekers
About 1.4 million people took the civil service examination this year, and overall each job got an average of 49.5 applicants.
But China sees similar figures every year. Last year’s applicant to job ratio was 46:1.
In 2013, more than 9,400 people applied to fill the post of “national statistics department’s Chongqing and Nanchuan investigation team member”.
China’s official unemployment rate is about 4%, which translates to a lot of jobseekers in a country of 1.4 billion people. And with high turnovers the norm in the private sector, many still flock to the government.
It is the same story in India with its similar population size and unemployment rate for instance, where last year two million Indians applied for 300 jobs in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
It’s an ‘iron rice bowl’
A government job is still attractive in many Asian countries for its prestige and stability.
In China, it is known as eating from an “iron rice bowl”, meaning that your source of income, and means of feeding your family, is unbreakable.
One Sina commentary joked that the China Democratic League job was a “golden rice bowl” for its overwhelming desirability.
But the sheen has started to fade: the civil service’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years with China’s zealous anti-corruption drive. Earlier this week the government announced it had punished 1 million officials for corruption in the past three years.
Some on microblogging network Sina Weibo reacted with cynicism to the latest news on civil service applications.
“What’s the point? If you can’t get in, your relatives will look down on you. If you do get in, then your relatives will hassle you on a daily basis to pull strings for them,” said one commenter.
But others sympathised. “Many of those applying do so because they really can’t find a job, or their current job is not good, it’s got nothing to do with corruption,” said another netizen.
Reporting by Tessa Wong