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饭碗: more than a container serving food


Xiao Lin's younger sister Huihui graduated from a prestigious university two years ago. She had worked in a state-owned sector, but recently she quit. Simon is told that jobs in state-run enterprises are coveted in China; hundreds of thousands of students dream to get such a job. When Simon came across her, he couldn't help himself from asking the reason why she quit.        

tīng shuō nǐ tiào cáo le

Simon: 听说你跳槽了?

I heard you changed your job?

èn , wǒ xiàn zài zài yī jiā sī rén qǐ yè gōng zuò 

Huihui: 嗯,我现在在一家私人企业工作。

Yeah, I am working in a private enterprise now.

"tiě fàn wǎn" dōu bú yào le

Simon: “铁饭碗”都不要了?

You quit the "Iron Rice Bowl".

yīn wéi wǒ xiǎng yào de shì "jīn fàn wǎn".

Huihui: 因为我想要的是“金饭碗”。

Because what I want is a "Gold Rice Bowl".

In the first sentence, "跳槽" (tiào cáo) literally means change or switch troughs. Today, it generally means "to move from one job to another" or "switch job professions", similar to "jumping ship". Huihui admitted she now works for a private company.

Simon expresses that he is surprised that she gave up a job which is considered as "铁饭碗" (tiě fàn wǎn, an Iron Rice Bowl). An "Iron Rice Bowl" is a Chinese expression referring to a job with guaranteed lifetime employment in state-run enterprise or public sector. 

China's transition from a centrally-planned economy to a market economy has smashed the old guarantees, so many employees choose to switch jobs and find higher positions in private companies with better pay. So here, Huihui says she needs a "金饭碗" (jīn fàn wǎn), which is a twist on this metaphor. It refers to a better job.


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