11/16/2012 12:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Is the Pay Scale for China's Leadership?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
By Faye Wang

Well... a Chinese civil service job doesn't pay that well. For example, Hu Jin Tao(胡锦涛, the chairman of CPC, is paid about ¥4000 a month (about $630). Chinese leaders have the lowest pay in the world. They earn a LOT less than "middle class" Chinese people (if such a "class" actually exists).

Here's a full pay grade (monthly salary) based on wiki:

  1. Level 1 (Prime Minister): 4000RMB ($630)
  2. Level 2 (Vice Prime Minister, State Councilor): 3200RMB ($503)
  3. Level 3 (Province Level Governor): 2510RM ($396)
  4. Level 4 (Province Vice-Governor, Foreign Ambassador): 1900RMB ($300)
  5. Level 5 (Province Level Government/Department Director): 1410RMB ($222)
  6. Level 6 ( Province Level Government/Department Vice-Director): 1080RMB ($170)
  7. Level 7 (County Level Government Director): 830RMB ($130)
  8. Level 8 (County Level Government Vice-Director): 640RMB ($101)
  9. Level 9 (Mayor): 510RMB ($80)
  10. Level 10 (Vice-Mayor): 430 RMB ($68)

source: 中华人民共和国公务员 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书(

However, the politburo members are the richest people in China, and civil service jobs are very popular among college graduates. Why? Because civil servants have a lot of "gray income." For politburo members like Hu or Wen, their salary is a joke, everyone knows they have other income. First of all, they don't need to pay for anything. Everything they need: clothing, food, transportation, housing, etc is paid for by the state. They live in the best houses, with many vacation houses all over the country. They ride the best cars with chauffeurs and bodyguards, food is prepared by the best cooks with materials grown on the best local organic farms, clothing is handcrafted, and if they do buy brand-name clothing, the state will reimburse the expense. All in all, there's absolutely no place they can possibly spend their salary.

Most of the politburo members' children and other high government official children, what we called "红二代" (red second generation), are businessmen. Some of them are arms dealers (China Poly Group Corporation), some of them control investment banks, some manage huge construction companies that work on state infrastructure construction projects, some are in oil/gas business... All highly profitable businesses, all controlled by these people.

The problem of paying minimum wage to the government official is that this virtually gives them a legitimate reason to take bribes or involve themselves in embezzlement. With that kind of pay, a state councilor will NOT be able to survive in Beijing if he relies on his salary for major living expenses like housing, food, and transportation. My friend (a college professor) earns about 10K (RMB)/month, which is considered low income in Beijing. That's the biggest problem I have with Chinese government, that they set up a system to encourage corruption.

It is also for the same reason civil service jobs are popular among college graduates despite its ridiculously low pay. Government jobs have great welfare, they provide a car service to high-level officials, they all have cafeterias so food expenses are low. Many departments provide child day care services for free, medical is covered, and on top of all that, you'll be able to receive bribes (amount depends on what department you're in and how much power your position has). The gray income is endless and tax free.

I feel that if the government officials get paid more, maybe people could afford to be honest and decent, they wouldn't take bribes or steal from the state. They could do the right thing and still be able to buy houses, provide for their families, and see their children finish college. But, alas, considering the greedy nature of human beings, that might be my own wishful thinking.


On a side note, various gifts were mentioned and reminded me about this story I heard from my dad:

One time, my dad went to visit this government official, some low level director who (I think) was responsible for awarding city infrastructure construction projects. At his home, my dad saw a cabinet filled with various of semiprecious stones. Nothing really fancy, mostly common amber, crystal, and cheap stuff. My dad was quite baffled by the display of cheap stones in this director's house, which is richly decorated, and filled with import furniture. Later, a friend told him the trick:

Say construction company A wants to bribe this director to give a certain project to them, but they can't really give him money in a suite case, such bribe can be easily traced. So he give a cheap stone to the director, and some time later, B would come visit him at his home, "accidentally" see the stone, totally love it, and insist on buying it. B would spend a large amount of money to buy the stone off through legitimate business transaction. The money is clean, the bribe is taken, project is awarded to company A.

This is an old trick, back in the 90s, I think. I'm sure there are better and more clever ways for government officials to steal money or receive bribes. Once they have enough money, they often escape abroad, many end up in America. I for one am thankful for it, they bring big money here, buy real estate, fancy cars, and send their children to private schools. And we really do need that money.

More questions on China: