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Early Chinese flags

Last modified: 2014-03-28 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: china | banner: china (1500 bc) | ribbon |
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1500 BC flag reconstruction

[1500 BC Chinese flag reconstruction]
by Phil Nelson

This is a reconstruction of a Chinese flag, circa 1500 BC shown in Znamierowski's World Encyclopedia of Flags. Znamierowski notes that the number of stripes indicated rank, ranging from 12 red ribbons for the Emperor to one for a low level functionary. The flag was attached to a bamboo staff topped with a metal trident. The red swallowtail ribbon was used to indicate a battle signal. It is interesting that the representation shows the yellow border being wider towards the fly than in the hoist.
Phil Nelson, 18 February 2000


Mencius (the Latinized form of Meng-Tseu) was a Chinese philosopher (375?-290 B.C.) who propagated the Confucius' (Khoung-Tseu) ideology. His book, also named Mencius (Meng-Tseu), is the fourth part of the Sse-Chou (The Four Books of Chinese moral and political Philosophy), considered as the basis of Confucianism. In chapter IV of the second part (Hia-Meng) of Mencius, we read:

Wen-Tchang said: "May I venture to ask you a question: Which kind of thing should be used to call the keepers of the royal reserves?" Meng-Tseu said: "A burskin should be used; to call ordinary men, a plain red silk standard should be used; to call scholars, a standard on which two dragons are shown should be used; for the main administrators (ta-fou), a standard ornate with feathers of five colours hanging from the top of the lance should be used."

The context of this discussion is the following (also from Meng-Tseu's text):

"King, koung (prince) of Thsi, who wanted to go hunting, called the keepers of the royal reserves with their standard. Since they did not answer him, he decided to make them die. [...] Why did Khoung-Tseu (Confucius) defend them? He defended them because the keepers did not answer the call since they had not been called with their specific signal. [Here is the discussion reported above]. Since the signal for the main administrators had been used to call the keepers, those, even facing their own death (which would have been the consequence of their lack of answer) did not dare to answer the call. If the signal for the scholars had been used to call the ordinary men, would the ordinary men have dare to answer? Neither would have answered a wise man if the signal for an unwise man had been used!"

One important part of the Confucianism philosophy is the strict respect of several complicated rituals, usually associated to the different levels of the social scale. It seems that standards as signals of rallying were important things in these rituals.
Ivan Sache, 15 May 2000


Ming Dynasty

On her blog "Céline en Chine", Céline Monthéard shows the photograph of a "flag bearing the name of the Ming dynasty". The flag is a yellow right-angled triangle, with a thin black border and Chinese "wavy teeth" on the upper edge. The name of the dynasty is made of two black sinographs placed on a white disk bordered in black.

As can be seen on the next photograph shown on the blog, there is a row of such "Ming flags" hoisted over the Zhonghua Gate in Nanjing. The flag are clearly of modern manufacture but I don't know if they are replica of historical flag or modern "Ming flags" designed de novo.

The companion text says that a peasants' uprising led by Zhu Yuangzhang overthrew the Yuan Mongol dynasty in 1356, seized Nanjing and, twelve years later, Beijing. Crowned as Emperor Hongwu, Zhu founded the Ming dynasty. He set up his capital in Nanjing, where he built a huge palace and thick city walls. In 1420, Yongle, the third Ming Emperor, moved the capital to Beijing.

Sources: www.celine-en-chine.com
Direct link to the image of the flag
Direct link to the image of the Zhonghua Gate

According to Wikipedia, the sinograph means "light, brightness". The tradition says that Hongwu adopted the Ming name to be supported by the Manichean movement Mingjiao ("Ther School of the Light"), which had contributed to the fall of the Mongol dynasty. However, Hongwu repressed the Manicheans.
Ivan Sache, 16 November 2008


Chinese Empire flag in 1705 Flagbook

[Pre 1876 Chinese flag]
image located by Vanja Poposki, 20 August 2012

Flag of Chinese Empire as it was presented in the book "Niewe Hollandse Scheeps Bouw" by Carel Allard, issued in 1705, and edited and re-issued in Sankt-Peterburg in Russian with comments in 1911.
Vanja Poposki posted in I Love Flags, 20 August 2012


Pre-1876 flag

[Pre 1876 Chinese flag] by Jaume Ollé

An old Japanese plate posted by Nozomi Kariyasu shows a flag captioned "China." The plate is date 1876 but flag must be older because the Chinese flag of 1876 is well known.
Jaume Ollé, 30 June 2001