They call it the "iron rice bowl".

Demand for cushy government positions with lifelong job security have led to a record number of applicants in China's civil service entrance exams, Chinese media reports.

Nearly 1.5 million people applied for just 15,589 positions this year, with a humble receptionist position for a minor political party attracting the most interest with 9837 people vying for the role.

The role at the Beijing offices of the China Democratic League involves receiving guests and serving tea - but requires a bachelor's degree and two years of "grassroots experience", according to the BBC.


Interest in government jobs has bounced back since last year, when the number of applicants dipped to 1.4 million amid the government's corruption crackdown. This year saw the highest number of applicants since the exam was established in 1994.

The BBC reports the most popular position last year was the post of "national statistics department's Chongqing and Nanchuan investigation team member", attracting more than 9400 applicants.

According to Chinese media, more than one million officials have been caught in the corruption crackdown since 2012, leading government departments to toughen requirements for many jobs.

A bachelor's degree is now required for most positions, and some require Communist Party membership.

The interest in the China Democratic League position was reportedly due to the desirable Beijing location and the looser entry requirements.

"Some jobs have attracted many people because they have broader requirements for education and professional and work experience," civil service spokesman Li Zhong told People's Daily.

Applicant Feng Zhongxia wrote on microblogging service Sina Weibo: "This job requires a bachelor's degree, but it is not limited to those who have specialised in a particular field. You don't need a party membership either."

While interest in the receptionist role was strong, 400 positions failed to attract any applicants at all. Li acknowledged those roles, mainly in remote areas such as a posting for railway guards in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, were unpopular due to their "more arduous locations".

With an official unemployment rate of 4.04 per cent, there are potentially more than 56 million job seekers in a country of 1.4 billion.

India has a similar problem. Last year, Indian officials were overwhelmed when 2.3 million people applied for 368 low-level government jobs in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

By comparison, more than 18,000 people applied for just 14 places at NASA earlier this year, breaking the record set in 1978 of 8000 applications at the US space agency.

The BBC reports some users on Sina Weibo reacted with cynicism to the latest rush for government jobs. "What's the point? If you can't get in, your relatives will look down on you. If you do get in, then your relatives will hassle you on a daily basis to pull strings for them," wrote one user.

It comes after an eight-part reality series featuring confessions by 77 allegedly corrupt public officials aired on state broadcaster CCTV. Following the series finale of Always on the Road, state newspaper People's Daily asked users to vote for a winner.

"Whose confessions do you think passed the grade?" the paper asked on social media platform WeChat, linking to a 12-minute edited collection of confessions along with transcripts.

According to Quartz, the winner so far is 60-year-old Li Chuncheng, former deputy party chief of Sichuan province, with 3000 votes, or 26 per cent of the total. Li is currently serving a 13-year jail sentence for bribery.