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Cadres Under Pressure
Summary:Over 60 percent of civil servants report being under moderate or heavy pressure. Heavy responsibilities, office politics and fear of the future often cause anxiety, insomnia and depression. However, few cadres are willing to seek psychological help, for fears that it will compromise their standing.


By Shen Nianzu (
沈念祖), Sun Li (孙黎) and Zhou Lili (周丽丽)
Issue 594, Nov 12, 2012
Nation, page 9
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article: [Chinese]

A stable income, generous welfare and high social status are the obvious perks that make civil service such a popular career choice in China. But often the job also comes with anxiety, insomnia and depression.

Zhang Xin (a pseudonym) is an deputy section chief at a public security bureau in Qingdao, Shandong. As a junior civil servant, he feels tired, helpless and worried. The responsibility is big and the workload is heavy.

He’s mainly responsible for deciding how to handle criminal suspects, which often entails overtime and work on weekends. But in addition to the heavy workload he also has to think about the possible serious repercussions of his work. “If I don’t handle things well, it might cause petitioning or a mass incident," he says.

He often feels mentally and physically exhausted and sometimes suffers from insomnia and anxiety.

Zhang isn’t alone. The counseling center that looks after the mental health of public servants issued a research report based on a sample field of over 2,500 civil servants working in 20 central government ministries which showed that more than 60 percent of civil servants reported being under moderate or heavy pressure. Of this 60 percent, 13.5 percent said they were under heavy or extreme pressure.

"Job burnout, the uncertainty of job prospects and personality issues have become the three elements which affect the mental health of civil servants," said Xu Peiji (徐培基), a 65-year-old retired official who founded the country's first Chinese Civil Servant Mental Health Network.

Xu says that seeking promotion is one of the greatest pressures faced by civil servants. “We should make the cadre selection process more competitive, open and procedural., setting rules about official promotions that can be followed,” he said. “Thus, the pressure caused by an unpredictable future can be lowered.”

Relationships with higher-ups and other colleagues are some of the key factors that impact the promotion of civil servants. Doctor of Psychology Liu Xiangping (刘翔平) from Beijing Normal University said that most civil servants who consult with him ask how to deal with superiors. No one asks how to get along with people below them.

Liu expressed concern about the government culture where any detail, no matter how insignificant, can be blown out of proportion. A recent graduate once came to him and described how he’d misplaced a leader’s name plate at an official banquet. He was reamed by an office manager for his mistake and the incident was brought up again and again at meetings. He became very depressed.   

While stress related to seeking promotions is big, Liu thinks that this isn’t where the greatest pressure comes from; especially among older cadres. He says that later on, they’re not so worried about their position, but they simply don’t feel good at work. “Once I gave a lecture to a room full of deputy division level officials who were all about 45 to 50 years old,” he said “I asked who in the classroom was willing to work until retirement age at 65. None said they were willing.”

Shi Zhanbiao (史占彪), director of a mental health counseling center for central government cadres, also said that though officials are very busy, their work is not necessarily recognized by the public. Their income isn’t very high and, unlike grassroots cadres, central government cadres don’t have much flexibility and freedom. They can’t find things that excite them about their work.

Shi says civil servants may look strong, but psychologically, many are vulnerable. They have little choice but to put much of their time and effort into work and meeting certain social obligations with little time left for family. This results in psychologically damaging problems like family conflicts, divorce and children falling behind in their education.

However, due to their identity and status, officials are usually unwilling to seek counseling from psychological experts for fear that word might get out and compromise them.

“From a psychological point of view, although they have issues, it’s not convenient for them to talk about them and release that built-up tension, so it’s easy for problems to emerge,” Shi says. “ Therefore, it’s necessary to pay attention to cadres’ and workers’ mental health."

In addition, the psychological stress being felt by civil servants is also closely tied to the challenge to administrative power that is coming from the growing trend of officials being held accountable for their behavior and “online supervision.”

Psychological problems will manifest themselves physically through headaches, fatigue, insomnia and physical discomfort. A white paper on the health of Chinese public servants that was published by the China Medical Doctor Association (CDMA)  in 2009 revealed that the higher the position a public servant holds, the poorer their health tends to be. The study showed that of the officials examined, 37.8 percent had dyslipidemia and 36.9 percent had fatty liver disease – conditions that can result from a sedentary lifestyle, malnutrition, high alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. These numbers show the urgency of encouraging civil servants to get more exercise.

Public servants don’t necessarily have to sacrifice their commitment to their career in order to improve their health. Wang Chu, (a pseudonym) who just entered a local procuratorate in Beijing, manages to exercise and pander to his boss at the same time.

The leaders in Wang’s work place like playing basketball, so he and several other newcomers joined the department’s basketball team.

“Although I don’t have a height advantage, interest [in the sport] can be fostered,” Wang said.

When asked if he was happy – a popular question of late – Wang hesitated a moment and then smiled, “that’s something that’s going to be at least another two or three years down the track.”



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