A new statement has recently gone viral across the Internet in China, claiming that Chinese civil servants are enjoying "super-national treatment." Eye-catching though it is, this kind of emotional remark will intensify tensions in the public debate about the benefits of civil servants.
The recent anti-graft and anti-extravagance campaigns have had great effect in revealing corrupt officials and their off-the-record benefits. The real income and subsidies that civil servants are supposed to have are also known to the public, which, however, still believes China's civil service to be "systemically corrupt." Chinese civil servants, in their opinion, enjoy a kind of "super-national treatment."
This is an illegitimate and lazy depiction of the welfare benefits Chinese civil servants get. Except for a handful of corrupt officials, these benefits need to be evaluated on the facts.
We have to admit that compared with most of the population who are covered by the social security system, Chinese civil servants enjoy some "special treatment," which is why a civil service career feels safe and attractive. However, this is just an example of the prevalent "dual structure" of Chinese society. This kind of unbalanced development model can also be found in the large gaps between urban and rural areas, between megacities and mid-sized and smaller ones, and between the real and virtual economies.
It is necessary for society to probe into how to narrow the gap, but it is unfair to label those who are in an advantageous position as those who are enjoying "super-national treatment."
It should be noted that the income disparity between ordinary civil servants and those in other walks of life is not the most prominent. But it becoming the most prominent one on the Internet should be attributed to a few corrupt and unscrupulous officials, who have tarnished the image of all civil servants. The government should take the major responsibility for this, but that's not the whole problem.
The remark about Chinese civil servants enjoying "super-national treatment" mirrors the mounting populism in China's public opinion. The rise of populism is always closely related to politics, and a part of the elite keeps adding fuel to the fire.
Chinese civil service reform must make sure the benefits of civil servants should be utterly open to the public in a gradual process. The government should also ensure its day-to-day operations give maximum transparency to the citizens. The ongoing anti-corruption campaigns have provided opportunity to solidify this kind of transparency.
As for civil servants, they should realize that the initiative to reverse negative public opinion is always in their own hands.
The Internet should not play the only lead role in reform of China's wealth distribution system. Public debate about its distribution cannot prevail over the creation of wealth, or fairness in distribution will be harder to achieve.