'The evolution of Tibetan representation and preferentiality in public employment during the Post-fenpei period in China: Insights from new data sources', by A.M. Fischer and A. Zenz.

ISS Working Paper No. 620


This paper exploits a new and exciting source of data on public employment recruitment in order to analyse the evolution of Tibetan representation and preferential hiring practices in public employment in all Tibetan areas from 2007 to 2015. Despite the limitations of these data, they provide a far more substantiated understanding of recent conditions than currently exists in the literature, even in the Chinese literature. Several major insights can be made from scrutinizing these data. First, following the retrenchment in public employment in the early 2000s and then the ending of the job placement system (Ch. fenpei), there was a strong increase in public employment recruitment from 2011 onwards. Second, Tibetan representation within the recruitment did not collapse, although it lagged significantly; within our sample of outcome documents, Tibetans were underrepresented in the recruitments across all Tibetan areas from 2007 to 2015, without any apparent regional or temporal patterns, at an average of 83 percent of what would be parity with their population share. More information is also needed on the ethnic composition of people exiting from public employment in order to have a more holistic evaluation of the evolution of Tibetan representation. Nonetheless, despite underrepresentation, new recruitment from 2011 onwards employed a much larger share of the university-aged population than during the late fenpei period, thereby reasserting the role of the state as predominant employment provider for educated Tibetan millennials.
Practices of preferentiality appear to significantly bolster representation, although they exhibited distinct temporal and regional variations. Language or Tibetan-medium degree type requirements were generally on the decline (especially in the TAR and Gannan, where their use became very marginal), with the exception of the Amdo region in Qinghai. Conversely, the use of residency requirements across all Tibetan regions has emerged as a significant form of practicing preferentiality in public employment, especially in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where all public sector recruitments specify local ‘origin’ (Ch. shengyuan) since at least 2007. The TAR also reintroduced employment guarantees for all local university graduates in 2011, in what we call the innovation of a neo-fenpei system. The decline in the use of linguistic requirements suggests the continuation and entrenchment of assimilationist trends in education and employment policies, and a lack of priority for Tibetan medium education more generally (with the exception of the Amdo region in Qinghai). However, the stable and in some cases increasing use of residency requirements, especially in civil service positions suggests a trend of local level protectionism in public employment, probably led by local governments.


Tibet; China; public employment recruitment and reforms; ethnic representation; preferentiality and positive discrimination; language.

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About the authors

Dr. Andrew M. Fischer is Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), and laureate of the European Research Council Starting Grant, which he won in the 2014 round. He is also the founding editor of a new book series recently signed with Oxford University Press entitled Critical Frontiers of International Development Studies.
His research and teaching are located at the intersections of development studies and social policy. His current ERC Starting Grant is on the political economy of externally financing social policy in developing countries, with a focus on the emerging social protection agenda among donors. The objective of the research is to deepen our understanding of the systemic political and economic challenges facing global redistribution towards poorer countries.

Adrian Zenz, Ph.D. (1974), obtained an MA in Development Studies before managing development projects in China. He then pursued a PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, focusing on Tibetan education and ethnicity-career dynamics in Western China. He is currently teaching empirical research methods and supervises PhD students at the European School of Culture and Theology, Stuttgart (Germany).