Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Asian art

View More:


Double sided cheat's handkerchief

circa 1850


Unknown Artist


The examination system in China, known as 'keju', existed from around 606 to 1905. Passing the examinations was of great importance. Success in them was seen as the only path to obtaining a professional, high-ranking official’s position in the imperial government, and along with it the associated prestige, power and financial gains. The highest and most desired level was that of 'jinshi' (advanced scholar). Some exams lasted a day, while others could take up to nine. Students were tested on numerous subjects, including the Confucian classics and history known as the ‘Four books and five classics’ (Sishu wujing), poems and policy. Each component of the exams had rigid rules that were strictly adhered to.

Cheat's handkerchiefs or sheets were used as secret aids in the examination and their surfaces were crammed with as much text as possible. They could be found hidden, folded or rolled up in a different places, such as in the lining of clothing, in pockets as small handkerchiefs, in shoes, bread, pens, inkstone bases and carrying cases. On occasion invisible ink was employed. Sometimes collaborators would tie sheets to rocks that were thrown into the examination compound or attach sheets to carrier pigeons.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, September 2011


Other Title

'Cheat's handkerchief'

Place where the work was made



circa 1850

Media categories

Textile , Calligraphy

Materials used

calligraphy on silk


41.5 x 43.0 cm (irreg.)


Gift of Judith and Ken Rutherford 2008


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history