1.4m sit China's civil service exam

08:17, December 06, 2010      

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Participants leave the examination site after the first section of the annual national civil service examination to select government officials in Hefei, Anhui province Dec 5, 2010. More than 1.4 million people have been accepted to sit in China's 2011 national civil service examination to select government officials. The written test was held on Sunday in major cities across China.(Photo/Agencies)

In the cold on Sunday morning, a 31-year-old woman surnamed Zhang arrived at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology to sit a highly competitive exam for a government job at 9 a.m.

Even though her current job here in Beijing with a multinational accounting firm pays well, Zhang said the pressure was heavy and she often had to work overtime.

"The reason I'm sitting this exam is that I want to switch to a more stable and easier job," she said.

Zhang is among the more than one million Chinese who took the annual National Public Servant Exam in 46 cities across the country Sunday, hoping to gain admittance to the civil service of the central authorities.

The exam involves two written tests, one of which is in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The first features multi-choice questions concerning the Chinese language, as well as maths and logic. The second quizzes the candidates' writing skills and ideas on certain issues.

An increasing number of people have qualified to sit the exam over the past six years, from 120,000 in 2004 to more than 1.4 million this year.

However, very recently numbers have begun to drop. Nie Shengkui, a senior official in charge of the exam with the State Administration of Civil Service (SACS), says the economy and people becoming more realistic about their chances are the two main reasons for this.

"This year, we have 1.41 million qualified applicants, 30,000 less than last year," Nie said, adding that China's rapidly growing economy was providing many different kinds of job opportunities.

Also, at least 85 percent of jobs with the central authorities this year require more than two years work experience, which could dissuade college graduates from sitting the exam, Nie said.

To take the exam, people must first pass the qualifying stage. In addition, the actual number of people who end up sitting the exam is always slightly less than the number who qualified.

The number of exam takers Sunday reached 1.03 million, 10,000 less than last year, but still ludicrously high given that only 16,000 jobs are up for grabs, said Nie Shengkui.

This means roughly only one out of 64 exam takers could land a government job.

In an extreme case, 4,961 people are contending for a single post offered by the National Energy Administration.

On Sunday, the national public servant exam tops the topics list that appears on the main web page of the country's most popular twitter-like micro-blog service t.sina.com.cn.

Over 100,000 microblogs concerning the topic have already been posted online as of 1:30 pm.

One entry said that the chance of 1 in 64 reflects the cruelty of competition while Wei Mingzhi sent his best wishes to his brother who was taking the exam.

There are also posts by those who argue that the high number of people who sit the exam reflects the strong desire for security which a public service job can offer, at a time of soaring property prices and rising inflation.

Work stability, benefits such as low-cost medicare and subsidies on transportation and lunches are among the perks of a government job.

Li Xiaomeng, a student from Beijing International Studies University, spent nearly 2,000 yuan (around $300) in a training course preparing him for the exam.

"I want to stay in Beijing. I also want to find a stable job. I think there's no better choice than I take this exam and hopefully become a public servant," Li Xiaomeng said.

Chinese people in recent years have shown an increasing interest in finding a "red-collar job," a widespread Internet term nowadays which means a public servant job.

Exam takers who do well in the first round will still face more examinations including specialized tests and interviews organized by different government departments through till the end of March next year.

Zhao Huiqin, a student from the Beijing-based Minzu University of China, said her first choice was to take the public servant exam as she had spent about half a year preparing for the tests. Despite the slim chances, she is hopeful that she will get through and end up working in that dream government job.

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