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Once Defeated, Twice Inspired, Thrice... Why Not?

Though the cut-off line of the exam had already been circulated and he was only 24 hours away from knowing his score, 27-year-old Li Lei (pseudonym) didn't share the anxiety of other candidates.

Having taken the same exam four years in a row, during which he passed twice but failed follow-up interviews, Li took the results much easier than first-time applicants.

It was the season for China's annual national civil service exam, the hottest exam in the country. For Li, the test was like a lottery ticket that he was willing to bet on but not place too much hope in.

Though having a decent job in a big Hangzhou trading company, he told the EO he was still drawn by the idea of securing lifelong job security. "After all, private companies aren't that strong when an economic crisis comes, are they?" he asked.

As the Chinese economy slowed down in the fourth quarter of 2008, many Chinese companies were tightening their belts and cutting jobs. At such a time, civil service jobs have became especially desirable.

While many employees in the private sector have small pension and insurance plans, civil servants enjoy free health care and would keep their base salary when they retire.

Even in good times, civil service has been a dream for many Chinese thanks to competitive salaries, comprehensive benefits, stability, and high social status.

According to statistics from Huatu Education, an exam training institution, the number of candidates for the exam has climbed by 65.7% since 2006.

Over a million people have applied for the civil service exam for 2009, making an average of 78 applicants for each position, with some popular positions seeing upwards of 4,000.

Most of the applicants were recent or would-be college graduates. Due to the tough job market for them in recent years, the civil service exam has gained unprecedented popularity.

The exam includes a test on administrative and management skills and a writing test, which has a total score of 200. This year's cut-off line for central government posts was set at 105 points. Candidates who passed the exam would move on to another round of competition through interviews with the agencies they applied.

According to the Minister of Education Zhou Ji at an employment working conference in early December, over six million college students would graduate to join the army of job-seekers in 2009.

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