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China is planning to reclaim a symbol of old China even as it attempts to purge another that has refused for centuries to go away.

The government is gearing up for another battle with its oversize bureaucracy and some of its 34 million functionaries, while also reimplementing the civil service exam to evaluate the competency of the rest, official reports said Wednesday.The rigorous standards of the civil service examination regulated the ruling mandarin class for almost 2,000 years. Once an official passed the first exam, he entered a maze of officialdom that was the precursor of the bureaucracy today. Now the government wants the test back, but not the red tape.

"China's drive to overhaul government departments will kick off next year," the official China Daily said.

The exact goals of the downsizing reform - to eliminate China's chronic problems with red tape, overstaffing and inefficiency - will be decided at the all-important October meeting of the 14th Communist Party Congress, the newspaper said.

Throughout much of its long history, China has suffered from a bloated bureaucracy, but the problem has grown in recent years. Senior leader Deng Xiaoping's first attempt at reform, in 1982, ended in disaster, with the only result the creation of new ministries and millions of new state employees.

China spends more than $20 billion per year on administrative expenses, almost 40 percent of total state revenues, and the payroll continues to grow.

"China now has 34 million government functionaries, a number that increases by 1 million every year," the report said.

While trying to get rid of an age-old problem, however, the ruling Communist Party says it will reintroduce one of pre-communist China's most revered and long-lasting institutions - the civil service exam.

Officials at a national conference that ended Wednesday decided to implement a system of awards and punishments to replace the lifelong tenure all officials now enjoy regardless of how hard they work.

"For middle and low-ranking officials in government organs, a system will be implemented that includes a trial period, resignation and dismissal," the Xinhua report said.

"The results of the examination will be closely linked to bonuses, promotions, demotions and salary increases," the report said.

The report did not say when the new examination would begin.