Chinese government: Short people need not apply

Joseph Kahn of the NY Times casts a critical eye on the hiring practices for public sector jobs in China and he clearly sees a lot of discrimination and unfairness. Short people and those who are less than beautiful are especially disadvantaged.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and began interacting more with the outside world, it has worked to project a positive global image. Government departments are being told to raise their stature and put their best face forward. Some have been following the instructions literally.

“They are trying to attract the tallest or the prettiest people, because it makes them look good,” said Ms. Chen, who at 5 feet 1.3 inches is just below average for adult women in China. “But it is completely random and unfair to everyone else.”

The standards are a sign of how far China has drifted from the Communist Party’s stated socialist values. Officials are no longer selected based on the basis of ideological fervor or working-class background, but rather in ways that seem more reminiscent of China’s imperial history.

Now as then, Chinese officials reject popular elections as unsuitable. Instead, they intimate that they are naturally selected to lead. They try to recruit the best, the brightest and, sometimes with surprising frankness, the most beautiful people to hold public positions.

Short people, overweight people, people who test positive for hepatitis B and non-debilitating illnesses, people who aren’t beautiful enough — all stand a good chance of rejection when they apply for a government job, even if they have all the qualifications.

Fifty-five years of Communist rule never eliminated the idea that mandarins are supposed to act like an aristocracy, and look the part. Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, has remained an iconic figure nearly 30 years after his death in part because his good looks inspired rapture in women and men alike, including foreign visitors.

With unusually round eyes, a nose that had just the right lift and a hairline that held fast into old age, he met the standard of “wu guan duan zheng,” or five perfect features. He stood 5 feet 7.

Exceptions are made. The father of China’s economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, was only 4 feet 11. Today he would not qualify for a job in the army or bureaucracy he once commanded.

It’s a great article. When you read of the woman who’s fighting to get a government job but can’t because she’s half an inch too short — even though height is totally irrelevant to the job — you can’t help but feel for her. And you can’t help but marvel at the maddening obtuseness of China’s officials.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

It’s not just in China, but universal. There are studies that show that shorter people earn less salary in the United States, get less promotions, etc.

Short people suck anyway.

May 20, 2004 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

hey ,Richard do not blame all the officials in China-i am one of them-not all agree this policy!

and i think this is a gross policy,but more outragious is that now most newly emplyeed goverment officials are from insider’s home ,you can find a strange picture in chinese goverment now:
at lunch time mother talk with son, consin chattin together,a guy call the superviser “uncle”!

funny,is it?

May 20, 2004 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

your eloquence amazes.
I was hoping to read something of substance, but you obviously feel threatened by short people. Why else would you say short people suck in the first place. Height is only as a high a barrier as one makes it. I’ve never had problem with my short stature. It would only be in America that such one would be paid less for being shorter than the average Joe Bloggs. What other country would elect a monkey to run it.

May 21, 2004 @ 1:18 am | Comment

Richard, great post. It’s motivated me to do something I’ve been meaning to complete for some time (of which I’m posting a brief version here. I’ll post something more detailed on my site in the next day or so).

A while ago, someone in China sent me the link to an official site that outlines the physical standards for civil service posts as they apply to Shenzhen. The guidelines pertain in fact to all of Guangdong, but the site is posted by the Shenzhen City Personnel Office (see the top left hand corner: shenzhenshi renshiju – I’m sure you recall the renshiju from your days in Beijing).

I’m not going to translate the entire document, but some of the more interesting points are:

Applicants are deemed unqualified if they exhibit, among other traits: face abnormalities such as obvious squinting; skin diseases; leg deformities; physical disabilities; poor eyesight as defined by realising a poorer result than 4.9 on an optical test [I’m uncertain to what 4.9 refers]; poor hearing as defined by the inability to hear a whisper from 2 metres; stuttering; has a history of epilepsy; coronary disease, hypertension, etc; and more than half of one’s teeth having fillings. [There’s lots more in this section, but you get the picture].

The next section refers to the results of medical examinations, and consists of quite specific tests. I.e., applicants are deemed unqualified if they are males and their hemoglobin count is higher than 9 gram /dl [I have no idea what that means]; have hepatitis; a blood pressure reading of worse than (systolic) 90/140 and (diastolic) 60/90; a height (for males) of less than 1.60 metres and a weight of less than 48 kilograms; a height (for females) of less than 1.50 metres and a weight of less than 42 kilograms (the next section indicates that applicants for the police force must be higher and heavier for both sexes).

The next section refers to the doctor completing the physical examination. The most interesting thing here for me is that the doctor should be of sound ethics and have clear handwriting.

Right at the bottom of the page is a table entitled “Hepatitis B examination result for Guangdong civil service applicants.”

May 21, 2004 @ 2:37 am | Comment

Sorry to clog up your comments box. I meant to start the post above by saying that Kahn is perhaps not totally correct when he states: “Ms. Chen is one of many Chinese who are denied government jobs because they do not meet an often unwritten code of fitness – height, looks and robust good health – that many say has nothing to do with their ability to perform the task in question.” In fact, the code is quite often written. As the rest of the post showed.

May 21, 2004 @ 2:45 am | Comment

Korea is far worse than China on this plank, Richard. Get some perspective.

May 21, 2004 @ 8:13 am | Comment

Adam, tell Joe Kahn to get some perspective! Here’s my perspective: just because Korea does it doesn’t make it right. Singapore does it too, at least for Singapore Airlines jobs. That doesn’t make any of the points Kahn makes any less valid.

Jeremy, quite true that short people often face discrimination in the US. But it’s not codified, so that if they’re a half-inch too short they’re out the door. And they can dispute it. But I agree, short people do suck. (Just kidding, and you’d better be too!)

May 21, 2004 @ 8:19 am | Comment

Deepocean, I’m not knocking all Chinese officials — just the ones who endorse and support stupid requirements that serve no purpose except to cause misery.

May 21, 2004 @ 8:24 am | Comment

Hey, Adam. How’s the Korea sojourn? Or are you back in China?

I’m by no means an expert on Korean workplace discrimination, but I’m pretty familiar with labour law there and have spent a lot of time with Korean trade unionists. But I can’t recall gripes from workers over rules like the ones I’ve spelled out above for Shenzhen in Korea. They have plenty of other things to complain about, but do they really have a codified system such as the one in Shenzhen I’ve translated above? Are people tested for hepatitis b and denied jobs?

I’m cautious about agreeing with you simply because the Korean trade union movement is independent of the government and in some sectors very strong (unlike the Chinese ACFTU). I can’t imagine, for instance, the left-leaning KCTU standing for the sort of thing that determines whether a person gets a job or not in Shenzhen.

But as I say, Korea is not my area of expertise. I’d be more than interested to hear from you about how Korea is worse than China in this regard (and I’m not saying this sarcastically – I edited a book recently on labour law and how it played out on the ground for workers across 31 countries in Asia and would welcome any information that might improve the next edition).

May 21, 2004 @ 8:25 am | Comment

In response to Inga.

The short part was a joke – Richard knows I’m only 5’5”.

But I don’t have that annoying short man’s complex – body builders, obnoxious personalities, etc. – mostly because I’ve always been short and always been fine with it.

Have to have a little humor and brevity to all situations.

May 21, 2004 @ 9:42 am | Comment

Another response to Inga:

What gives you the right to call my President a monkey?

While I may or may not agree with what he is doing, he is still my President and I will defend him, as well as my country, to my death. Just as I might or might not have agreed with President Clinton, he was still the President and deserved my allegiance to the office (it’s an office, not a man).

In my country, we have a First Amendment right to speak our minds – is your country so giving?

May 21, 2004 @ 10:21 am | Comment

Cool it, Jeremy. Our president is a monkey. Clinical tests prove it.

May 21, 2004 @ 10:27 am | Comment

Stephen, thanks for all your insights. As i mentioned above, Singapore does the same bathing suit beauty contest for SIA applicants. I wonder if this is a standard practice in Asia, and whether Cathay Pacific does the same….

May 21, 2004 @ 10:29 am | Comment

China: Short people got no reason for jobs?

I was alerted to a Joseph Kahn story in today’s New York Times on how Chinese workplaces discriminate on the basis of height and other criteria by Richard at The Peking Duck. I’m glad to see this issue get some…

May 21, 2004 @ 11:07 am | Comment

Richard, I’ve posted a much longer translation of the Shenzhen guide to hiring public servants (see here). There’s really some quite amazing material on offer. Thanks for motivating me to get off my behind to do it.

I have no idea whether Cathay does the swim suit interview, but I’d be fairly certain that the criteria for successful applicants is not written down; and if it is, not publicly accessible on the company website. I’d be interested to hear from anyone with any inside knowledge on the practice you’ve mentioned.

May 21, 2004 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Kahn on gov. job discrimination.

Via Richard I was pointed to an article that I thought was particularly sloppy. Kahn has always been hopelessly out of touch with China from my perspective, so I thought that I could mark my return to blogging by pounding his head in with a brick. Ms. …

May 21, 2004 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

There was a BBC tv news ‘story’ on this a couple of weeks ago. More of a ‘aren’t those chinese wierd and wacky’ tabloid filler than news. It was about a girl in Shanghai who had her legs broken and stretched 4 inches to be taller so she could compete in getting jobs. She was 5 foot originally. But the angle was more a focus on the freak value of the story rather than the social implications of discrimination. I couldn’t find a link to it though.

May 22, 2004 @ 4:37 am | Comment

There was this article in the NYT two years ago about the leg breaking operations.

When I was with a private school a few years ago we all took a trip to the local teachers college for hiring. Some of our teachers checked the applicants’ presentation abilities, the foreign teachers quized their English, and one administrator was there to give input on “other qualities.” They ended up passing over the high scorers and hired the pretty ones instead. No bathing suit test, though.

May 22, 2004 @ 8:41 am | Comment

Actually, thinking about it, it offends me for anyone to call the president a monkey. It smacks of the crap they pull in the middle east, with effigies and burning the flag. Respect the position, not necessarily the man.

And, it really offends me when some bitch that won’t even put her email address calls him a monkey.

May 23, 2004 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

these days koreans prefer tall person.
maybe this come from distorted glovalization. this means koreans are getting lost respection for human.
so there was severe limit for some sector such as police woman .
but you know koreans are equal aimimg people,so this kind of limit could not be survived for long.

if goverment or cvilian organization discriminate someone for he or she is short 1inch than average height(without
reasonable cause),that could be a breach of the constitution.
and he or she can be relieved.
so the physical limit for official is getting downward thesedays.
there is some assemblyman sitting on wheelchair today.
you know korea has also active constitution.

June 5, 2004 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

koeans traditionaly respected short and ugly person beause there were so many great person among them.
general who defeated invading hundreds thousand of kitan( khitai )army and saved middle age korea was famoue for his short stature and ugly face.
so the belief ,short and ugly often makes great person had been spread for long time.
chinese also could understand this opinion for their long history.
china and korea should recover those brilliant human spirit.

…i`m not short and too ugly…thanks

June 5, 2004 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

it is not fair for short people.I am only 5 feet tall.I am now i can tall between 16 to 19.
I don’t annoy anyone etc.short people,overweight,.this is not so good for humans.good height,pretty face is a gift of nature.i advise you to listen buddhist speech.if we don’t have no love,no tolerance,as the people in the world can not be called”human”.they are like animals.why short people earn less salary than tall people?what are they differ?for “HEIGHT”I always wish that everone in the world don’t annoy short people, ugly people.

April 16, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

i see the fact that you jeremy are offended that someone called your president a monkey when you feel you have the right to slag off people by their height rather than the content of their character… respect the position not the man….she was slagging off the man….not the position!!

April 28, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

Hey i’m short 🙂
I’m 4″11 i’ve been on growth hormone and everything…. but not i’m just resolved to the fact that i’m short. I’ll probably have to work harder to be noticed in the work world but thats just something i’ll have to face!

April 26, 2006 @ 7:39 pm | Comment

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