China sees record 7.7 million applicants for 200,000 government jobs

University students looking for jobs at a fair in Hangzhou, China. According to CNBC analysis of state media reports, 7.7 million people took the civil service exam in the 2023 application round, vying for more than 200,000 government jobs at the national and provincial level.
Qilai Shen | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

A record number of people in China took the civil service exam this year, as unemployment among young people soared.

According to CNBC analysis of state media reports, 7.7 million people took the civil service exam in the 2023 application round, vying for more than 200,000 government jobs at the national and provincial level.

Government jobs are typically regarded as stable and prestigious in China. GDP growth has slowed from its rapid pace of the past decades.

The interest in government jobs comes as Xi Jinping last week cemented his position as China's leader for an unprecedented third term.

Xi sees unity under the ruling Chinese Communist Party as essential for building up the country. That's meant the party has and is set to increase its presence in the economy, including among businesses that are not state-owned.

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Studying "Xi thought" is a growing requirement for schools in China.

For millions of people who want a government job, they must take China's civil service exam — which starts with questions on Xi's report to the party's congress and Xi thought in a multiple-choice section.

Here's a sample question, from Gongkaotong, which sells test preparation questions for the civil service exam:

Xi Jinping's thought on economy is an important part of Xi Jinping's thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. Regarding Xi Jinping's thought on economy, how many of the following statements are correct?

① Entering a new development stage is a historical orientation of China's economic development
② Promoting high-quality development is a distinct theme of China's economic development
③Adhering to the new concept of development is the guiding principle of China's economic development
④ Insisting on opening to the outside world is the first driving force for China's economic development
⑤ Vigorously developing the manufacturing industry and the real economy is the main focus of China's economic development

A. 2 items
B. 3 items
C. 4 items
D. 5 items

The written exam consists of two parts: a 120-minute multiple-choice section on "administrative professional ability" and a 180-minute essay writing portion called "shen lun," translated to mean "constructing and defending an argument."

The administrative test includes questions on the Report of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and other rules and regulations. The exam also tests for language skills, data analysis, quantitative methods, "judgment and reasoning," and "common-sense judgment."

Preference for young civil servants

Who's hiring?

Senior leaders don't need to test

China's civil service exam has its roots in China's imperial examination system dating back to the 6th century.

Under that system, scholars would take several levels of tests to earn government positions — it was considered a process that gave everyone a fair chance to move up in social hierarchy.

The country's current exam system was adopted in 1993 and in 2005, it became mandatory for all entry-level government officials.

However, Xi and other senior leaders did not need to take the civil service exam to gain their current roles.

By law, only "non-leadership civil servants below the senior staff member level and other equivalent positions" are required to take the test, not senior leaders.

The president, vice president, chairman of the Central Military Commission and other top government positions in China are chosen through a process in which national delegates discuss and nominate one candidate for each role.

Xi gained an unprecedented third term Friday through this process.

At a provincial or lower level, heads of government may face at most one competing candidate for each role.

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