n. A guaranteed state job in China that lasts until retirement and pays a pension until death.
"Iron rice bowl" is a Chinese term used to refer to an occupation with guaranteed job security, as well as steady income and benefits. 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).
Because the "Iron Rice Bowl" guaranteed a stable standard of living regardless of the amount of effort made by the worker, the term is used to describe extremely unmotivated and unproductive workers.
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.
Usage examples of "iron rice bowl".
And not for the glory - for being what the People's Daily called a jianghu haojie, a modern-day knight errant - and certainly not for the 'iron rice bowl' which her status afforded her.
Wu was bluntly vocal in his call for closer economic ties with Taiwan, ending the iron rice bowl system of guaranteed employment regardless of productivity, and cracking down on party and government officials' taking bribes and levying arbitrary taxes on businesses.