Exhibition Themes > East Asian Collections > 30. Fabric "cheat sheet".
30. Fabric "cheat sheet". China, n.d. Ink on silk, (40 x 43 cm.) C. V. Starr East Asian Library
The Chinese examination system, stretching though two thousand years of Chinese history, theoretically created a system of meritocracy, in which any man of whatever background could join the governing class by means of his learning. By late Imperial times, successful candidates were appointed only to districts other than their own, to avoid conflicts of interest and other seeds of local corruption. But the examination system itself became increasingly bureaucratic and exacting, leading to a condition, according to Benjamin Elman, in which "cheating became a cottage industry." Since candidates and their possessions were physically searched before they could enter the examination hall, in which they were locked for the three days of the examination, it is hard to imagine how successful any of the attempts at cheating actually were. This handkerchief is covered with hand-brushed tiny characters representing some of the texts a candidate was required to know.
Gift of Anne S. Goodrich, 1986