We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Double sided cheat's handkerchief

circa 1850


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    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

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    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

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition