By Tom Bannister
Descriptions of securing a Chinese government job have jumped several Olympic medal categories and moved straight to gold. Previously the vast number of state positions and generous associated benefits were known as the ‘iron rice bowl’. However, since the early 1990’s those employed by the state have increasingly been tempted to ‘xia hai’, (to ‘jump into the sea’), and enter the private sector.
Now, both the Financial Times and The Economist have run reports on how the state sector is again looking increasingly tempting to job-seekers. Re-labelling it the ‘golden rice bowl’, the reports detail the main reason for this shift to be the rapidly increasing numbers of university graduates. Although there are far fewer jobs in state-owned industries, the huge civil service remains a gigantic institution. One important point that both articles miss is that despite talk of ‘smaller government’, the Chinese civil service has actually grown during the Hu-Wen administration; it now employs around 10 million people compared to just 3.7 million in 1978.