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Roundels of China

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[Roundel] by Željko Heimer

See also:

Golden fimbriated five-pointed red star defaced with white character all superimposed over a yellow fimbriated red bar.
Željko Heimer, 13 May 2001

The white character is a Chinese ideogram, representing 1 August 1928, the foundation of the People's Liberation Army.

From: Cochrane and Elliott (1998)
Jarig Bakker, 13 May 2001

China has no less then 27 plates in the web version of [c2e98]. The book itself has 11 plates.

There is almost non other info about the early days, so [cos29] is the main source, even though it is not the most accurate. Some historical facts are taken from

Do note that dates and names are sometimes approximated.

Plate no 1 ([c2e98] and titled Chinese Republic 1916-1920. [c2e98] gives 1913 -1916 for this plate. report 1913 as the year the Airplane Corps of the Chinese Army was formed and 1914 for Chinese Army Air Arm and 1919 as the dissolving year of Chinese Aviation Service. Those markings are 5-color stars as roundel and fin-flash based on the China Republic national flag, 1912-1929

Plate no 2 (only shows national colors rudder stripes, again as Chinese Republic 1916-1920.

Plate no. 3 (only shows a 5-color roundel and rudder stripes as Chinese Republic 1920-1921. Since there was no Chinese Aviation Service in 1920 but we got Mankuochun AF of Marshal Chang Tso-lin ( later Manchurian AF or Northeast AF until Sept. 1931), those, if exists, belonged to this AF

Plate no. 4 (only show more familiar roundel titled as Chung Shan aviation team 1921-1925. Chung-shan (or Zhongshan) is a city in SE China, near Macao. According to Countries/china/nch.html, this so-called Cantonese AF was formed in unknown year and was active until 1937. The roundel is the known Taiwan roundel ( border in red).

Plate no. 5. (only titled Kwangsi AF 1924-1937. Kwangsi (or Guangxi) is also in "Canton", and it is the Cantonese AF roundel as before with blue white rudder stripes added.

Plate no 6 is again Kwangsi AF 1924-1937, but this time with a selection of 4 more tail marking: The roundel, 8 blue-white stripe, 8 or 10 stripes with vertical red and See for Ryan B-1 Brougham served in Cantonese Air Force, 1930-31 and description from the site:" The Chinese Nationalist twelve-pointed star markings in Blue and White, with a Red outline are carried on both upper and lower wing surfaces and on the rudder." and see report a red vertical stripe "Kwangsi roundels, as described for the Avro Avian IVM, are utilized on the wing lower surfaces only. There are also rudder striping which consists of a vertical Red stripe, and 10 horizontal stripes in Blue and White."

[c2e98] include also a plate titled 1928-1930 with the star (without the red ring) and 5 vertical stripe of black-white-blue -yellow-red. He explains those as the insignia of the Central Government AF of 1928. This plate is omitted from the website, and no wonder since the Central Government AF was formed only in 1934. It operated as so-called Nanking AF since 1927 but no 5 stripes rudder is reported.

As said before, China is a problem concerning aircraft marking. The unique situation in which every lord got his own private air force makes it hard to get confirmed information. It seems also that they collect any machine they could find which make an hard time while trying to allocate the machines or to date them. Moreover, seems that beside using almost the same roundel, there was a variety of rudder stripes with no guidelines.

However, I find a website which seems to be more accurate then others at It used same plates, but least it has some photos and info.

This site also reports plate 1-3 as Chinese Republic 1914-1920s. See photo at with plate 1 insignia and with paler insignia.

I do suspect drawings since you never know what came first.

But plate 4 the website says: "Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the first president of China, established a small air force in Canton. The Chinese character was used after his death on 12th March,1925." Photo at

Concerning Kwangsi Air Force 1924-1937 (plate 5 and 6) is say: "Around 60 aircraft in total were operated by Kwangsi Air Force, which opposed the KMT government. Following the outbreak of war with Japan, the Kwangsi Air Force amalgamated with the KMT forces in July, 1937."

The plates show 4 variants of rudder stripes. However the photos reveal a star on blue rudder and triangle as top left wing roundel ( other photos agree with the plates ( 2000hk/avian2.jpg and Note the a star on blue rudder (with regular roundel) is reported by [c2e98] as 1928-1936 but it is not in the website.

Now lets go with more plates

Plate 7 ( shows the so-called Nanking AF later to become Central Government AF 1927-1940. The star is the same, but it show no less then 6 combinations of rudder stripes: blue with the star (reported in [c2e98] as 1928-1936], 8,12,16 and 18 blue and white stripes ([c2e98] shows a 10-stripes version as 1936-1949), and stripes with red triangle (see calling this air force as KMT/Central Government, Nanking 1925-1938 and report: "Sun Yat-sen's revolution in 1923 and his Nationalist (Kuomintang - KMT) regime saw the establishment of a central air force at Nanking. KMT Aviation Bureaus in 1925 were set up with Soviet aircraft and training assistance. The well known twelve pointed star and blue disc marking was introduced at this time, though before 1927 these generally used a Red outline similar to those illustrated for the Kwangsi Air Force. Other warlords and provincial governments eventually joined up with the central government in the effort to fight the Japanese. " However one of its photos attributed to this AF has vertical stripes ( which was reported to belong to the naval air arm (see plate 8)

Plate 8 ( is titled Chinese Navy 1927-1940. It show the regular star charged with anchor. An alternate roundel (mirrored version of the star) and 8 vertical stripes as rudder stripes. This one missing from [ c2e98]. I couldn't find any more info. report them as Chinese Naval Aviation 1927-1938"

"A small naval aviation detachment was first formed at Foochow, but amounted to little. The KMT operated a small Naval Air Service between 1927 and 1938. Markings were not uniformly applied, and several variations in markings were used in addition to those already illustrated for the Central Government."

Note that the photo at ythere is a "national" rudder insignia while got no fuselage roundel.

Again it is proved that almost each plane (or type) have its own colors, and you can't use rudder stripes for determine to which AF it is belonged to.

Plate 9 ( reports another local AF from Sinkiang 1927-1940 with same star. 12 rudder stripes and an fuselage decorations. see photo at and http://www.

See also later on plate 15.

Plate 10 moves us to another local AF - the Manchurian AF 1928-1931 ( - appear also in [c2e98]) - This is NOT the known "Japanese puppet AF" but Chang Hsueh-liang's private air force as reported in http::// "Manchuria was ruled by the Warlord Chang Tso-Iin until 1925, when his son Chang Hsueh-liang succeeded him. In that same year, the province switched its allegiance to the central KMT government, though it maintained an autonomous air force at Mukden. It should also be noted that both Changs also maintained their own private air forces at Fengtein in addition to controlling the Manchurian Air Force. To confuse the situation even further, Marshall Chang Tsoin's commander-in-chief, Chan Tsung-chang, also maintained an air force at Tsinanpu"

Plate 10 show a smaller star and blue over red rudder (ratio 2:3} with star on top. Photos at 2000hk/g3h.jpg and

Plate 11 show an alternate insignia for this Manchurian AF 1928-1931 ( - missing from [c2e98]). This time an internal ring is added to the previous one and the tail is blue white black (3:1:1) with yellow ball on the center of the black. The website give us a warning:" The insignia illustrated here are supposed alternative renditions of the Manchurian Air Force markings. It is believed that the example shown as drawing F [plate 10] could lead a misinterpretation of this variant. The tail striping shown here could also have been made up with the Red band replaced with Red, Blue and Yellow stripes."

Plate 12 take us to the red army 1930 ( not in [c2e98]) The website reports: "On 28th Feb., 1930, a National Chinese reconnaissance aircraft O2U-4 Corsair was force landed due to running out of fuel. The Red Army captured it. It was repainted and with red star and named after Lenin. It was later used against the Chinese National Government."

This roundel of a 5-point red star was carried only on the lower wing. See photo of "Lenin" in cwlam2000hk/lining1.jpg

Do note that the website also give a long list of other local AF's whose insignias are not known:

  • Yen Hsi-shan - Based in Shansi Province at Taiyuanfu with Japanese flight Instructors 1921-1949
  • Tuchun, son of Ch'uan-Fang - Based in Tchekiang Province 1926-27
  • Unknown Warlord - Operated between Peking and Hangkow
  • Tsai Ting-kai - Operated between August and October 1933, location unknown
  • Chinese White Army
  • Fukien People's Republic Air Force - Based at Hangkow between 1933 and 1938, this air force appears to have inherited the inventory of Tsai Ting-kai as listed above
  • Lung Yun - Operated in Yunnan 1926-1933
  • General Liu Wen-loILiu Hsiang Operated at Chengtu, Szechuan Province between 1930 and 1932
  • Chen Jitong - Operated in Guandong Province until 1936

The next 6 plates take us to mid and late 30's.

Plate 13 ( and [c2e98] takes us to the puppet state in Manchuria. says: " Occupied by the Japanese in 1931/32, Manchuria's air force was partially revived in September 1932. The Japanese occupation forces formed a paramilitary airline, the Manchurian Air Transport Co. (Manchu Kokuyuso Kabushiki Kaisha - MKKK) that acted as a puppet air force in support of Japan, performing transport and photographic reconnaissance tasks. The two main variants of markings used are illustrated at figures H [plate 13] and I [plate 18 below]."

5 colors roundel of red-blue-white-black yellow and the supposedly corresponding tail seen at photos at and see also model at /cwlam2000hk/ju86.jpg Note that the tail seems to be different from the plate and is yellow with 4 stripes canton.

Plate 14 takes us to the regional Canton AF ( not in [c2e98]. The website say: "under General Wong Kwang-yu, the Canton Air Force operated around 90 aircraft. Red-outlined roundels, similar to those illustrated in figure E were used on wings and rudders. This air arm defected en-masse to the KMT in July 1936."

A smaller star on blue and 12 blue white stripes with red triangle tail can be seen at mc.jpg

Plate 15 ( shows the fuselage device of Sinkiang Aviation School 1936 (which appears also in plate 9} from the website "Under the agreement of Sinkiang autonomy and Chinese Communist, a few officers selected from Red Army were sent to the Sinkiang Aviation School for basic flight training. Aircrafts used included Polikarpov R-5, I-15 and I-16. Under the agreement of Sinkiang autonomy and Chinese Communist, a few officers selected from Red Army were sent to the Sinkiang Aviation School for basic flight training. Aircrafts used included Polikarpov R-5, I-15 and I-16. Under the agreement of Sinkiang autonomy and Chinese Communist, a few officers selected from Red Army were sent to the Sinkiang Aviation School for basic flight training. Aircrafts used included Polikarpov R-5, I-15 and I-16."

Plate 16 ( and [c2e98]) is of Reformed Government of China 1938-1940. The website reports: "Under the Japanese occupation, the areas around Nanking and China were allowed to form puppet governments under warlords who controlled internal security. The Reformed Government of China Air Force was formed in 1938 when it acquired Japanese gliders for pilot training purposes." A "Japanese-style" roundel with "Chinese" 5 stripes rudder made this insignia.

Plate 17 ( is titled: National Government 1940-1945. The "star" roundel with two narrow red rings and no rudder insignia.

"The National Government of China was formed in 1940 by the combination of the Nanking and Peking governments. Japan allowed the formation of an air force, also known as the National Government of China Air Force or Cochin China Air Force. A unit equipped with Nakajima Ki 27 fighters was proposed, but the Japanese never trusted the Chinese enough to allow delivery."

[c2e98] reports the roundel as Cochin Air Force 1940-1945 but add a red white blue vertical rudder stripes as seen at and not seen at

Plate 18 ( and [c2e98]) show the Manchukuo Air Force 1938-1945. "A fully fledged Manchukuo Air Force was formed around 1938 by the Japanese, and aircraft wore the horizontally striped roundels as illustrated on the wings only. By 1944 this air force was struggling to survive, and had crumbled by the time of the Japanese surrender, though there are reports of action against occupying Soviet forces in August 1945" the red-blue-white-black-yellow (1:1:1:1:4) roundel can be seen at

See also article at

An interesting feature was the Japanese characters carried on the fuselages of the planes. These characters actually show names of donors of the aircrafts. See for a full overview.

Before moving on, a special note to a special unit, Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group more known as the Flying Tigers. As a child I was fascinated by the stories about the dog-fights between their P-40's (with the shark teeth painted on) and Japanese Zero's. There is no plate dedicated to them (and I wonder why) but their P-40 has a regular Chinese star on the wings. and no rudder insignia. see and

However, no surprise that these marking appear in Jane's 1945 as China marking.

Plate 19 ( - not in [c2e98] shows the Red Army of China Air Force 1944. A red ball with Chinese letters as roundel and "regular" as fin flash. reports: "This style of marking was applied to a Japanese Army Air Force Tachikawa Ki.54 Hickory captured by Communist forces in Northern China in 1944. Chinese characters were painted over the Japanese roundels in White, representing CHICOM (Chinese Communists). A standard KMT Blue and White roundel was painted on the tail, presumably as an insurance against attack by Allied warplanes ." see

Plate 20 ( - not in [c2e98]) show Red Army of China Air Force 1946-1947. This is "regular" roundel bordered in white and tail with 7 blue-white horizontal stripes.

The website says:" During the initial setup of the Communist Aviation School in Manchuria, all aircraft wore the same National Chinese roundel with white border and with 4 blue and 3 white strips on the rudder. During the initial setup of the Communist Aviation School in Manchuria, all aircraft wore the same National Chinese roundel with white border and with 4 blue and 3 white strips on the rudder." see photo at

Plate 21 ( and [c2e98]) show People's Liberation Army Air Force 1946-1949. Ref star with a Chinese letter and 4 thin red bars, Tail with 7 red-white horizontal stripes

Website report: "This star insignia with bars in Red and White was yet another national marking to make its appearance around 1946. This style of marking was applied to many of the aircraft included in the list on this page." see (I wonder what does a Mig-15 doing with those 1946 markings - I really like to see such photo)

Plate 22 ( not in [c2e98]) have the same title People's Liberation Army Air Force 1946-1949, Red star bordered white with Chinese letter which serves also as fin flash.

Website report it for 1945-1949: "An alternative marking was this simple star, worn on the wings and fuselage of several types, notably the Manshu Ki.79a and Ki.79b trainers in North China and Manchuria, and at the Sian Air Academy. " This time we have unclear photo at see also

Plate 23 ( not in [c2e98]) is titled Red Army of China 1946-1949

Website report it as Red Army of China Air Force 1947-1949:"To avoid miss up with National Chinese aircraft, all Red Chinese aircraft wore this national marking between 1947 and 1950. It was used mainly by aircraft from the Communist Aviation School in Manchuria and the 1st Squadron of the Air Combat Group. Representative types: Kawasaki Ki.45, Mitsubishi Ki.30 Ann, Mitsubishi Ki.46 and Nakajima Ki.43 Hayabusa, Tachikawa Ki-55." See

Plate 24 ( not in [c2e98]) is again People's Liberation Army Air Force 1946- 1950.

Website report: "This simplified curved star and circle roundel was used on several types between 1946 and 1950. This was the first national marking that included Chine characters representing the formation date of the Red Army of China on 1 August 1928. Representative types Kawasaki Ki.45 Nick, Mitsubishi Ki.30 Ann, Mitsubishi Ki.46 Dinah Mitsubishi ki.51 Sonia and Tachikawa Ki.55 Ida. "

No photos this time.

Plate 25 and last ( is the current roundel () adopted in 1949. There are 9 red-white rudder stripes reported and outlined blue roundel (low visibility?).

Website report: "familiar Star and bar Chinese national insignia made its first appearance in 1949, and has continued in use up to the present day."

It seems that the Communist habit of not presenting any other insignia on planes became more liberal as it seems that the rudder stripes are replaced by fin flash of the unit emblem. reports on planes of 2nd Division, Flight test & Training Center and 81st Aerobatic Team.
Dov Gutterman, 13-14 June 2004