Civil Servant Pay Scale Reform, Chinese Experts Weigh In

A cartoon depicting people chasing money that climbs up to a "public servant" (government employee) chair.
A cartoon depicting people chasing money that climbs up to a "public servant" (government employee) chair.
Written on the chair: “Civil Servant”

From NetEase:

What Criteria Should be Used to Formulate the Level of Wages for Public Servants?

Summary: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences expert Tang Jun believes public servants are close to elite white-collar demographic and so should have a comparable standard of compensation. Tang Jun says the average monthly salary for public servants should be around 5000 yuan, with the best reaching 8000 to 10,000 yuan.

Wages for public servants have always been a hot topic of public opinion. At present, our country has over 7 million public servants. The establishment of a scientific and reasonable wage system clearly affects not only the individual welfare of civil servants but also the country’s system of governance and its effectiveness. The current civil servant wage system was put into effect in 2006 and its flaws are becoming more pronounced by the day, while urgent reforms have collapsed. On one side are low-level civil servants complaining bitterly to the media about their low incomes, while the other side is the public “grumbling” about the welfare and perks enjoyed by civil servants. So just what element is holding back civil servant wage reform? How should a new round of civil servant wage reform be handled? What direction should be taken with the overall distribution of income reform? With regards to this, launched a “10 Questions on Civil Servant Wage Reform” series of reports, to investigate the issue with netizens.

The currently “Civil Servant Law” only says two things concerning the wage levels for public servants: “The wage levels for civil servants should be negotiated in relation to the nation’s economic development, corresponding with the progress of society. The state shall implement a wage investigation system that regularly investigates and compares the wage levels of civil servants to their counterparts in the private sector, and use such findings as the basis for adjusting wage levels for civil servants.”

In fact, in the draft of the law put before the vote, there was also a line that says the wage standards of civil servants should “be essentially equal with the wage standards of their counterparts in the private sector”. Because many [National People’s Congress] representatives have raised that there are more hierarchical levels for public servants that staff in private companies and that there are companies with good and bad benefits resulting in a large spectrum of incomes, it is very difficult to achieve basic parity between the wages for civil servants and workers in the private sector. As such, the National People’s Congress Law Committee suggested deleting the above sentence.

Ultimately, all that was left to determine the wage standards for civil servants was the “wage investigation system”. This system that was stipulated for by the law in 2006 has to this day not yet been truly realized, and so current civil servant wage levels actually lack a clear, and legal standard.

In particular, the wording used in the law regarding the relationship between the wage levels of civil servants and “the wage levels of counterparts in the private sector” is vague, saying neither that it should be higher or lower and deleting the “comparable/equivalent”. On this issue, public opinion is divided as well: there are those who believe wages for public servants should be equivalent to the average wages in society, while others believe it should set higher, and still yet others believe it shouldn’t exceed a certain limit/standard.

Expert views:

China Ministry of Personnel Research Institute Wages and Benefits Office Director He Fengqiu:

Wages for civil servants should essentially be the same as workers in private companies.


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Beijing Normal University Income Distribution and Poverty Research Center Director Li Shi:

Dislikes current statistical data as too rough to formulate wage standards for civil servants.


Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Policy Research Center Secretary-General Tang Jun:

Civil servant compensation should be based on that of professional workers [white collars].


Capital University of Business and Economics Labor and Economics College Professor Ji Shao:

The standards of civil servant remuneration should change with the industrialization of the country.


Afterword: In every round of debate over remuneration for public servants, there have been calls for “a policy of high pay to discourage corruption”. What kind of wages are considered “high pay”? Is there definitely a direct connection between wage levels and levels of honesty? Can “high pay” actually “foster honesty”? Please watch our next report.

Comments from NetEase:

pwt9889 [网易广东省网友]:

This expert‘s monthly salary should be 50,000, and in US dollars.

网易美国手机网友 ip:71.198.*.*

I raise both hands in support of simultaneously having a policy of high pay to discourage corruption along with cracking down on corruption.

花样做死大赛冠军 [网易天津市手机网友]:

Those who came in and directly went to the comments, ding me.

网易上海市手机网友 ip:117.136.*.*

The moment I saw this headline, I knew there would be something interesting to read/watch [possibly referring to the comments]…

dbc17a2450597be084c129fe [网易江苏省盐城市手机网友]:

How much should retired workers get? I ask that this expert figure that out.

网易河北省廊坊市手机网友 ip:117.136.*.*

I get 7000 after-tax a month and I’m willing to switch jobs with a civil servant with a 3000 monthly salary.

通博天下 [网易陕西省西安市手机网友]:

Everyone register for the civil service exam then.

网易广东省东莞市手机网友 ip:183.22.*.*

I came to read the comments.

钓鱼岛国宾馆 [网易广东省广州市网友]:

If the hiring of public servants were made open/transparent to society, if unqualified civil servants could be fired as well, if an independent agency was used to exercise oversight over civil servants like the Independent Commission Against Corruption were used, if public servants with high pay who still engage in corruption are punished with 10x the penalty of the current criminal law, then I will definitely endorse this expert‘s opinion!

用户uj7ldezyd3ow4q [网易江苏省手机网友]:

The civil servant system has not increased salaries in 10 years. The iron fist of the state being used to fight corruption and a policy of high pay to discourage corruption must be used together to attack the problem. That said, 10,000 a month isn’t really high income, is it? It depends on the area.

护宪办 [网易广东省东莞市网友]:

“Comrade” has changed its nature, “miss” has changed its flavor, “professor” has changed its workplace to the bed, and “experts” have collectively become idiots.

李不白y [一步成诗]:

Along with the intensifying of this new round of reforms, after enjoying government car benefits reform, there is once again a sensible and righteous mouthpiece calling for increasing the salaries of civil servants: “10,000 yuan would be best…” I personally would also like to strongly make the appeal that: “high pay to discourage corruption” is not enough, a series of strong measures such as “allowing multiple wives to prevent people visiting whores”, “distributing housing to prevent housing concerns”, and “eliminating punishments to end trouble” should also be fought for an instituted.

A patriot


Resolutely support! I’d support 10,000 a month for civil servants. However, a dishwasher in America makes at least 2000 USD. So, please increase the people’s wages to 12,000 kuai, and I’ll support increasing civil servants to 15,000 a month, but the law must be changed. Civil servants who corrupt 100,000 or more [probably should be “less”] must be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Those who corrupt 100,000 or more must be executed without pardon. Those who corrupt over 100 million or more shall have all nine generations of their family wiped out. OK!?

网易上海市手机网友 ip:114.87.*.* (responding to above)

I’m okay with that…

tb10074 [网易河北省邢台市网友]:

In college, there are professors who say they are professors but are actually government officials [working for the government], and if you say they are officials, they are professors again. You can say he is ignorant and without learning, but he has “published enough material to match their height”, and if you say he has published a lot, he’s all talk and no substance. You can say he’s a teaching professor, but he doesn’t actually teach many classes, and if you say he doesn’t teach class, he still collects a fee for his class time, and what more, he’s a famous national educator.

赤裸裸的腐败 [网易陕西省西安市网友]:

May I ask, did this Chinese Academy of Social Sciences expert graduate from Lanxiang Excavator School???

Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.

  • Jahar

    It will take more than a higher salary to have any meaningful effect on corruption. It’s a question of integrity, which these workers generally don’t have.

    • Boris

      Blame the game, not the playa!

    • Irvin

      You have no concept of “incentive” do you?

      • Jahar

        Yeah, like ” if you stop taking 50k a month in bribes, we will give you a 1000 a month raise”?

    • Confucius

      The UK went through a similar set of discussions a few years back, Australia was just going through it now. The argument is that the Lords and politicians could make more money in private enterprise and therefore should not be blamed for taking bribes and making fraudulent claims on work benefits, and that they should increase their pay to address this cause of corruption. I personally don’t think it makes practical sense – it will just spur wage competition in the private sector under a capitalist system. It’s definitely a question of integrity, but also it’s a very human quality. There was a report a few years back about how humans who live in a society will adapt to become more altruistic or more selfish so as to profit from how the rest of the society is (ie, an altrustic person in a selfish society will benefit more, and vice versa).

      • Jahar

        Here it’s selfish people benefiting in a selfish society.

    • donscarletti

      It will take more than this, yes. It will take more than thorough investigations or harsh punishment too. In fact, it will take more than any single measure. Other measures are being enacted, fringe benefits are already being limited and people investigated.

      As of today, the only way for an official to have enough money buy the kind of phone or meal that an young collar professional could buy on a whim is to break the law. This measure aims to fix this.

      Still, as a manager of many white collar professionals, I would like to point out that 8 hour days are a rarity in the private sector. We pay 7K to new graduates up to 20K and beyond for experienced professionals, but we work them 12 hours a day Monday to Friday and 6 on Saturday and I at least do not tolerate overly long lunch breaks, chatting, playing with phones, dozing or wasting time in meetings. If someone wants 20K they should be working literally all day.

      • Jahar

        Seems a lot like painting a rotten apple.

      • Ben

        You’re such a cruel & calculating manager. You will not be able to retain good staff. Work is about quality, not quantity!!!!

  • simon

    There are too many civil servants to begin with, increasing base wages is just going to put extra pressure on local governments payrolls, i’m already hearing of many small cities struggling to pay the wages of their bloated bureaucracies. If they’re going to increase the wages they’re going to have to increase efficiency and downsize the government workforce.

    I doubt they’re going to downsize any time soon though

    • ClausRasmussen

      >> There are too many civil servants to begin with

      According to the article there are 7 million public servants in China. I find this number hard to believe but if it’s true then less than 1% of the population are public servants. This is almost unbelievable to me because the (admittedly bloated) public sector in my European country that employ no less than 13% (thirteen!) of the population.

      >> small cities struggling to pay the wages

      This is partly caused by the tax system of China: The local government do not get the taxes it collects. The money are instead sent to Beijing that then return a part of it depending on some obscure process. If economy is booming in an area, there is also an increasing demand for public employed engineers, teachers, inspectors and hardware like roads, sewage systems, public transportation etc., all of which have to be financed from a fixed budget

      • David S.

        You are not comparing the same things here. Your 13% figure presumably includes teachers and possibly hospital staff as well as armed forces and the police.

        There are definitely more than 7 million teachers in China.

        • ClausRasmussen

          I looked it up: Excluding teachers, police, military, and hospital staff there is still 10% of the population employed as public servants in Denmark

  • Rick in China

    High pay only works when matched with BIG PUNISHMENT. The risk need to change, and in order to do so – I’m sure the public would be more appeased with ‘offer them higher salaries’ if it was partnered with ‘lowering the amount of bribery that leads to the death penalty’ and ‘serious penalty for all corruption conviction no matter how minor’. You can’t just offer one and not the other, or they’ll simply take advantage of both, fucking the common tax payer even worse in the end.

    Sure, pay scales should equate similar to professional private environments otherwise you’d end up with a bunch of douchebags in government – but since the government is already full of those douchebags, how do we get them all out when the money is rolling in and we want people actually worth the money? I’ve no idea.

  • ClausRasmussen

    I definitely support higher payment to public servants.

    Corruption is impossible to eradicate when wages are so low that even a dishwasher in my country makes more than Xi Jinping

    • Rick in China

      Do you know how ridiculous that statement is.

      • ClausRasmussen

        No I don’t. Please enlighten me

        Alternatively, please comment on the following article that claim that Xi Jinpings official wage is just $1.600 a month

        • Rick in China

          First of all, it’s “salary” not “wage”. Second of all, government officials’ compensation package is not comprised entirely of their ‘base salary’ – they officially and legitimately receive monetary compensation far beyond their base salary and your article does articulate that – do you really believe a dishwasher in your country earns more than Xi Jinping or were you simply being facetious? I’ll accept facetious. Even without researching Xi Jinping’s exact entire compensation, based on your own article, it indicates it’s approximately a 20/80 split between ‘base salary’ and total compensation, which would mean according to your source, it would be more around 8k USD/month compensation. Then there is taxes, to which your dish washer would likely pay a fair chunk.

          So, how many dishwashers do you know that earn 96k USD/yr?

          Beyond that, we all know the relationship between government and SOEs in China. Most government officials – in China, and in the US, and surely in many countries around the world – are already very wealthy before brought into office (or have wealth accumulating outside of their government function through private investment/business). *Without* considering any of the massive amounts of money earned through corruption, there is enough wealth in addition to the reasonably good compensation that “makes more than” becomes *ridiculous*.

          • ClausRasmussen

            >> do you really believe a dishwasher in your country earns more than Xi Jinping

            No I don’t which is actually my point: With that level of official compensation it is almost impossible to resist making some money on the side (or let your family members do it for you to stay clean)

            And regardless of your lengthy explanation of other forms of compensation, my claim still stands: A dishwasher in my country have a wage comparable to Xi Jinpings salary

          • Brido227

            Given the point under debate is the how the official salary is supplemented by unofficial income (i.e. corruption) it strikes me as very pertinent that Xi’s official salary is lower than a menial labourer in some countries.

            I’ve no doubt that a dishwasher could also make 96k USD/yr if they too had access to the right connections and ‘black’ income but that only serves to reinforce Claus’s point. Laughably low salaries lead to corruption.

          • takasar1

            this seems to have gone way over your head…

  • Joe

    seriously, saying XJP makes 100k a year is like saying Mark Zuckerberg makes only 1 dollar a year, the princelings owns essentially all the strategic wealth in the country.

  • Jahar

    Death doesn’t actually serve as a deterrent.

  • Jahar

    I didn’t say people weren’t afraid of death, but it’s been proven it doesn’t serve as a deterrent.