BEIJING - More than one million people took China's national civil service exam at the weekend in a modern version of an age-old rite, but faced huge odds against clinching one of the few government jobs available.
A total of 1.12 million took the National Public Servant Exam, according to figures from the State Administration of Civil Service figures.
But only 19,000 positions were available, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, meaning that fewer than 1 in 50 candidates will be successful.
The most competitive role was with the National Ethnic Affairs Commission, where 14,384 candidates were vying for just two jobs, it added.
Domestic reports said it was so popular because the application process appeared to be less arduous than for other positions.
Government jobs are especially appealing to Chinese because they are seen as stable employment and bring with them a range of privileges, as well as the status of being an official.
The benefits can include living allowances, pensions, health insurance and even property - a valuable commodity in China's prolonged housing boom.
The current civil service test is a legacy of the ancient imperial examination known as the keju, introduced during the Sui Dynasty, which ruled from 580-618 AD, and often regarded as a key meritocratic element of the governing system.
Early forms of the examinations were largely based on Confucian texts. They were open only to boys who were able to complete their education, either because of family wealth or sponsorship by benefactors.
The tests were only held every three years, and local officials would often present those who passed with a special banner to be hung at the entrance to their home, to ensure the success was remembered for generations.
Nonetheless many posters on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, ridiculed the candidates.