Multiple Chinese Cities Suspend Merit Pay for Public Servants

By Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.
July 16, 2021 Updated: July 16, 2021

Reports from several Chinese provinces indicate that local authorities have begun to suspend merit pay for public servants in the name of cleaning up a provocative situation, according to posts on social media. Some regions were even required to cough up previous pay they had received during a certain timeframe. The rare move has ignited speculation about what caused the move.

So far, megacities like Shanghai and Chongqing, and other cities in Guangdong, Hubei, Anhui, Henan, Jiangxi, Shandong, and Sichuan provinces are involved.

An insider told The Epoch Times that the pay returns haven’t reached Hubei province but it is under investigation. He revealed that heads of the provincial departments would have to return around 100,000 yuan (about $15,500) for each year specified.

Traditionally, public servant positions are widely viewed as “iron bowls” in mainland China, which means a high stability job with substantial benefits, both open and hidden, due to their unique role within the Chinese communist regime, which explains why hundreds of thousands of candidates join the fierce competition in the national examination for vacancies each year. Data shows more than 1.5 million candidates registered to contend for 13,172 positions for the 2021 examination, according to an official website.

As a result, the recent suspension of merit pay has caused quite a stir.

How it Began

According to reports, a complaint filed by teacher Zeng Suqing from Ganzhou in southeastern China’s Jiangxi province is believed to be what precipitated the revocation. Zeng demanded an equal merit pay policy for teachers, citing that each local public servant earned a year-end benefit of 40,000 yuan (about $6,200) and an extra month’s pay, from 2017 to December 2019, but teachers did not.

However, the complaint was dismissed as inaccurate by the city government, according to an online official document dated April 8.

A netizen with the username Tian Xia Guang Wen wrote on social media that the merit pay suspension was triggered by an outcry from teachers.

A spat soon broke out online between public servants and teachers, each complaining that they have a hard life in their professions. The former envied the latter’s paid summer and winter vacations while the teachers were jealous of the public servants’ annual benefits.

2 Birds With 1 Stone?

Some netizens question who should really be held responsible for the withholding of merit pay.

The impact of Zeng’s complaint was doubtful, insiders said. Instead, they suspect that the government could cite the mutual dissatisfaction to deprive each party of owed merit pay.

Historically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been adept at using the strategy of targeting a certain group to make it a public enemy, such as landlords during the CCP’s “land reform” campaign during the 1950s.

Experts: Sign of Financial Collapse

It is rumoured that governmental staff have been asked to read an official notice from top CCP executives on banning “malpractices in making merit payment for public servants” since early June. However, the contents of this document have not been disclosed to outsiders. The original official document, although mentioned in relevant outlet reports, is unreachable on China’s state media websites.

China commentator Wen Zhao noted on his YouTube channel on July 13 that the suspension is a salary cut in disguise, which reflects insufficient local revenue—one of China’s grey rhinos—due to rising local government debt.

“Chinese history shows financial collapse is the last straw that breaks any regime,” the commentator added. “It is predictable that more similar stories will be heard in China in (the) coming days.”

Luo Ya contributed to the report.

Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.