Iron rice bowl

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"Iron rice bowl" (simplified Chinese: 铁饭碗; traditional Chinese: 鐵飯碗; pinyin: tiě fàn wǎn) is a Chinese term used to refer to an occupation with guaranteed job security, as well as steady income and benefits.[1] The Chinese term can be compared to the similar (but not identical) English concept of a "job for life". Traditionally, people considered to have iron rice bowls include military personnel, members of the civil service, as well as employees of various state run enterprises (through the mechanism of the work unit).[2]

Because the "Iron Rice Bowl" guaranteed a stable standard of living regardless of the amount of effort made by the worker, the term is sometimes (depending on the specific context) used to describe unmotivated and/or unproductive workers.[citation needed]

Recent moves at cutting benefits and privatization of various state run businesses in Taiwan such as the Taiwan Railway Administration and China Airlines have led many in those industries to believe that their iron rice bowls are in jeopardy, and has led to strikes (and threats thereof), as well as being the subject of much political debate.

In China[edit]

When Deng Xiaoping began his labor reforms in the People's Republic of China in the 1980s to boost economic productivity, the government iron rice bowl jobs were some of the first to go.[3]

As a condition for joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China had to "break the Iron Rice bowl", a step that was disputed by some economists.[4][5]

Efforts to break the iron rice bowl continued in Guangdong province in 2011 with a new plan of grassroots recruitment, employment by contract, and pay based on performance. The new arrangement will be included in the 12th Five-year plans of the People's Republic of China (2011-2015).[6]

Other uses[edit]

In the Western society, the term has a similar usage. It has been popularized by Richard Lindzen in reference to government-funded scientists and labs that, according to his conspiracy theory, use their research results to justify continued government funding. Lindzen's thesis is that the intrinsic link between reporting and funding provides incentives to report research results in such a way as to ensure continued funding.[7] The related term "rice bowl" often refers to a military project which is being protected in the interests of a particular department rather than wider needs.[1]

The term is also used to some extent in Singapore,[8] a former British colony where the majority of citizens are ethnically Chinese.


  1. ^ a b "rice bowl". Double-Tongued Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  2. ^ "China's communist revolution: a glossary". The People's Republic at 50: Special report. BBC News. 6 October 1999. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Kim Petersen (August 18, 2003). "The Broken Iron Rice Bowl". Dissident Voice. 
  5. ^ Martine Bulard (January 2006). "China breaks the iron rice bowl". Le Monde diplomatique. 
  6. ^ Zhao Chunzhe (December 6, 2011). "Civil servants to lose 'iron rice bowl'". Retrieved December 8, 2011. 
  7. ^ Richard S. Lindzen (December 1, 2004). "Climate Alarm- Where Does It Come From? (remarks to the George C. Marshall Institute)". 
  8. ^ Nicole Tan (January 2003). "Not an Iron Rice Bowl". 

External links[edit]