Demystifying the components of public service motivation among young public servants in China : a qualitative inquiry

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Journal / PublicationAsia Pacific Journal of Public Administration
Publication statusOnline published - 10 Oct 2022


While public service motivation (PSM) is universally acknowledged as a value-laden and context-contingent construct, few studies have relied on qualitative methodologies to investigate unique components and dimensions of PSM in a Chinese context. Thus, our knowledge of on-the-job motivation (held by Chinese public employees) and how the cultural and political systems shape these motivations remains limited. This study fills this gap through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 22 junior public servants working at various organisational levels, geographic locations, and functional departments. The findings show that an attachment to the governance regime and predilection towards becoming a politician are two key dimensions that capture the rational motives among Chinese civil servants. In terms of norm-based motives, Confucianism-oriented authoritative values (including government-centric conception, collectivism, obedience, and moral obligations to serve the public) combine to affect the ways in which Chinese nascent public workers interpret the notion of public interests. In addition, love for both the family and nation serves as a core affective factor that contributes towards one’s willingness to seek membership in the public sector. This study ultimately helps construct an all-encompassing yet localised PSM concept, laying the foundation for subsequent quantitative examinations, validations, and replications of PSM-related theories in China.

Research Area(s)

  • China, components, dimensions, Public service motivation (PSM), qualitative inquiry