“This year, I even need to pay for fruits out of my own pocket.”
China’s heavily-promoted anti-corruption campaign led by the country’s new boss Xi Jinping is showing some effects, at least in the lives of many low-level cadres. Working for the government has long been seen as the “gold rich bowl” job in China. It pays well; it’s stable; and most importantly, it comes with tons of benefits that no other job in China even comes close to. But such a privileged life seems to be put to an end when more and more civil servants (how government employees are referred to in China) start to feel the chill of corruption crackdown.
It’s tradition in China for government agencies to give out gifts to employees during the annual Chinese New Year holidays, either in the form of gift cards, or in the form of actual goods. This year, however, many civil servants complained about a “difficult” new year.
“In the old days, the storage room at my home would be filled with goods. But this year, I even need to pay for fruits out of my own pocket. Even my son is complaining about the lack of benefits.” One city-level cadre in Jiangsu described how he and his family are struggling with a less-privileged life: “We never needed to keep cash at home before this year. After all, who’d need cash with endless gift cards and goods. Sometimes we had to give out foods and gifts to other family members to make room. This year, we need to pay for everything ourselves.”
A driver for a government official in Nanjing has also been impacted by the corruption crackdown: “Usually during the Chinese New Year holidays, people would flock to send gifts to the official, most of which would be stored in the trunk first. When I went to pick up the official, if he thought there was too much to take, he’d give me some. This year, the official almost got no gift at all. In turn, my ‘benefits’ have been significantly cut, too.”
For many of these low-level civil servants, the year of the horse would be a “naked” year without much hidden income. And believe it or not, hidden income plays a very important role in their lives…because they don’t earn very much.
A recent leak of official salaries in the county-level city of Lengshuijiang under Hunan reveals some surprising facts. Monthly salaries of most local civil servants are within the 2000 yuan to 4000 yuan ($330 to $660) rang, barely above China’s national average.
In a country where official salaries are strictly kept secret from the public, the leak offers some very refreshing information. And the public is surprised at how small the numbers are, at least much smaller than what they expected. “These salaries are really not high.” Many Chinese netizens commented.
This is not the first time when low-level civil servants in China are reported to have low pay. Back in 2013, when a 28 year-old township head in the city of Luzhou, Sichuan province, was interviewed about why he decided to resign, one of the major reasons he cited was low pay: “My wages were just enough to pay for formula and diapers for my child.”
There are netizens who sympathized with these low-level civil servants, arguing that it is the officials who are corrupt. The low-level civil servants are the ones who need to do all the work but don’t have enough power to leverage, and thus have to reply solely on salaries for a living. One netizen 梦遥or梦瑶 commented: “Not all civil servants are equal. Those in power have many ways to get rich. But those little clerks have nothing more than salaries.”
Others, however, thought that these civil servants are simply spoiled by unlimited power. “They have a stable job, a good pension plan and great benefits. For them, a difficult life has nothing to do with survival. It’s only a matter of whether they can continue to abuse power. As a civil servant, they should live a ‘difficult’ life.” One netizen 朱继东 commented.
In China, civil servants enjoy an array of benefits ranging from better healthcare, better pension, lower housing prices to a variety of expense reimbursement programs – the exact reason why so many of China’s young flock to apply for government jobs.
A civil servant with a 3000-yuan monthly salary is more likely than not to live a better life than a white-collar worker with a 6000-yuan monthly salary. “Many of them don’t need to spend a single penny of their salary to cover the day,” commented one netizen 雪峰-美杜时尚摄影, referring to transportation reimbursements and free lunches at many government agencies.
“It’s time for us to smash the gold rice bowl,” commented another netizen.