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Chinese Customs

Taiwan, China /

Last modified: 2006-09-23 by phil nelson
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Chinese Customs Flag

[early Chinese Customs flag]
by Phil Nelson

The first Chinese Customs flag was designed by H.N. Lay when in England to purchasing cruisers for the Chinese Government, 1861-1862. Following an inquiry from UK government, it was decided that the national flag of China would be a triangular one, yellow in color with a blue dragon facing the hoist. In 1862, the Chinese government directed that this emblem be flown in the center of the green flag designed by Lay.

Soon after returning to China the flag fell into disuse until 1867 when the green and yellow flag bearing the St. Andrew's cross as designed by Lay was revived. It was replaced again in 1873 with a dragon ensign, - triangular yellow flag with a red sun (similar to the flag shown at 1872 Imperial Dragon Flag), which in turn was replaced in 1889 by a rectangular version of the dragon flag (similar to the flag at 1890 Imperial Dragon flag).

In December 1912, when the Republic of China came into existence, the green saltire returned as the emblem of Chinese Customs. During the period of 1928-1931, a central device, the Kuomingtang emblem, was added to the flag.

Source: "Dragonflags" No. 1, Canadian Flag Association

Phil Nelson, 25 November 1999

Until as late as 1949 the plain green flag with yellow saltire was flown as the Customs Jack.
Miles Li, 17 August 2006

A page titled "Customs History Resources" has links to three Circular instructions about customs flags and reproductions:

Circular No. 5 of 1867.
Flags to be used by Customs' Vessels.
26th April, 1867


1.- I have to instruct you to direct all the Revenue Cruizers, Boats, and Hulks, belonging to the Office over which you preside, to fly a flag similar to that appended, numbered one. The colours are to be green and yellow; the flag is to be longer than it is broad, and, at the staff, it is to be somewhat broader than at the end.

No. 1
[customs flag - 1867}
No. 2
[image from circular}

2.-The Boats and Hulks belonging to the Harbour Master's department, are to fly a flag similar to the drawing, numbered two: the colours also to be green and yellow, and the Chinese characters black, with the addition of a foul anchor in red at the outer end.

3.-No other flags are to be made use of, except for signalling purposes, by the boats and vessels referred to.

I am, etc.,


The Commissioners of Customs

From Circular 5 of 1873:

[image from circular}

Circular No. 5 of 1873.
Concerning the new Flag to be used by the Customs.
30th April, 1873


Having reference to my Circular No. 5 of 1867: concerning the Flag to be used by the Customs:

I have now to inform you that that Flag [green ground, with yellow diagonal cross] is to be discontinued, and the new Flag [triangular, yellow ground, with red sun and blue dragon,] lately designed and prescribed for Chinese National Vessels, to be substituted. You will accordingly take the necessary steps to issue Flags of the proper kind to the various stations in your district, for the Customs Cruizers, Boats, Lightships, Lighthouses, and all other kinds of Customs property where the use of a flag is befitting.

I am, etc.,


The Commissioners of Customs

And from Circular No. 4183

[image from circular}

Circular No. 4183 (Second Series).
Flag for Customs use: new form of, prescribed; history of Customs jack.
20th February 1931


1.-The first flag authorised for use on Customs cruisers and floating property was the familiar rectangular green one with the diagonal yellow cross (I.G. Circular No. 5 of 1867). This flag, it is interesting to recall, had its origin in a proposal made by Mr. H. N. Lay, the first Inspector General, when on leave in England in 1861-2. As will be remembered, Mr. Lay was at that time engaged in purchasing a fleet of cruisers for the use of the Chinese Government, and as China at the time of the purchase negotiations had no national flag, and as it was necessary that these vessels, after being purchased by China, should on the voyage out fly a distinctive ensign in order to avoid risk of capture or detention, Mr. Lay made the suggestion that that ensign should be a yellow diagonal cross on a green ground*. The British Naval authorities, however, declined to recognise this ensign until its adoption had been approved by the Chinese authorities at Peking, and to secure this approval Lord Russell, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, wrote to Sir Frederick Bruce instructing him to inquire of Prince Kung whether the Chinese Government would sanction the adoption of the flag in question. This led the Imperial authorities at Peking to decide that the national flag of China should be a triangular one, the ground to be yellow and the design to be a dragon with its head towards the upper part of the flag. In October 1862 an Imperial Edict was issued to this effect**, and Mr. Lay was instructed that the flag to be flown on the cruisers he had purchased for China was to be a green ground with a yellow diagonal cross, bearing in the centre a yellow triangle with an Imperial blue dragon***. Under this ensign the Sherard Osborn flotilla, which Mr. Lay had recruited, came out to China, and as this flotilla was sent home again shortly after its arrival, its flag naturally disappeared with it. The memory of it, however, remained, and so, when four years later (1867) a distinctive emblem was required to mark Customs cruisers and floating property, it was natural that the green flag with its yellow St. Andrew's cross should once more be revived †.

2.- Up till the spring of 1873 this green flag with the yellow cross was flown on customs cruisers and floating property, and thus came to be widely known as a distinctive Customs emblem. In that year a change was made, and orders were issued that the use of this flag was to be discontinued and its place taken by the dragon ensign - a triangular yellow flag with a red sun and a blue Imperial dragon††. In 1889 this triangular flag was discarded and its place taken by a rectangular one of the same colour and bearing the same design§. After the proclamation of the Republic in February 1912 the picturesque dragon flag as a national emblem was abolished and the five-barred Republican flag, with its horizontal bars of red, yellow, blue, white, and black, proclaimed to be the national flag§§. In December of that year the Government, on the Inspector General's representations, decided that a distinctive flag should be flown by Customs cruisers, and thus the old green flag with the yellow diagonal cross came officially to its own again, this time as a jack in the upper canton of the Republican five-barred flagƒ. This official recognition of the Customs jack was of considerable value during the disturbed years 1927 and 1928, as it served to distinguish and protect Customs property in areas where the five-barred Republican flag could no longer be exhibited. The ultimate victory of the Nationalist forces led to the introduction of the present national flag - red ground with a blue jack in the upper canton, the jack bearing in its centre a white sun with 12 white rays based on a blue ring encircling the sun. On my recommendation it was agreed that, in order to establish the identity of Customs craft, etc., a distinctive device on the national emblem should be allowed. This device took the shape of a circle with green ground and yellow diagonal cross placed in the fly of the national emblemƒƒ.

3.- From the appended copy of Kuan-wu Shu despatch No. 4449 you will see that the Government has now decided that this latter flag for Customs purposes is to be discarded, and its place is to be taken by the national flag with four wavy green banks running across the red ground in the manner and in the proportions shown on the accompanying sketch (Enclosure No. 2). You are accordingly, as soon as convenient, to replace present flags with those of the newly authorised design and to fly such in future on all Customs vessels and Customs floating property. As, however, the Customs green jack with the yellow diagonal cross has been consistently flown at the bow in our cruisers and launches, even during the period when the dragon flag was prescribed for use on customs boats, and as there is nothing in the Government's present instructions forbidding such use of the Customs jack, you may continue to fly at the bow the traditional green and yellow jack which has had so long and so honourable an association with the Customs Service.

4.- For purposes of reference I append also coloured reproductions of the various flags authorised by the Government for the use of certain highly placed officials and of the various Government Departments whose work necessitates the use of distinctive emblems.

I am, etc.,
Inspector General

*B.P.P., China No. 2 (1864), pp. 1 and 2.
**B.P.P., China No. 3 (1864), p. 42.
***B.P.P., China No. 2 (1864), p. 4.
†I.G. Cir. No. 5 of 1867, antea, vol. i, p. 76.
††I.G. Cirs. No. 5 of 1873 and No. 48 of 1875, antea, vol. i, pp. 350-359.
§I.G. Cir. No. 459, Second Series.
§§I.G. Cir. No.1881, antea, vol. iii, pp. 57-61.
ƒI.G. Cir. No. 1974.
ƒƒ I.G. Cir. No. 3848."

Santiago Dotor, 14 February 2006

Image Credits:
1867 images by Miles Li, 17 August 2006
1873 images in the circulars: University of Bristol, contributed by Santiago Dotor, 14 February 2006
Chinese customs flag by by Željko Heimer

Inspector General of Customs, 1887

1887 Inspector General of Customs]
image by Martin Grieve

This seems to be a variation of the Chinese War Ensign shown in Whitney Smith's "Flags Through the Ages etc", page 108.

A painting of the flag was sent to the Admiralty in 1887. A print copying the painting appeared in the 1889 Admiralty Flag Book.

The painting had another red circle, in the upper left corner of the yellow rectangle, in the same position relative to the dragon, as in the triangular Dragon Flag (1872).

This circle had been crossed out and was not included in the print.
Source: [National Archives (PRO) ADM 116/300]
David Prothero, 19 April 2005

KMT Customs Flag (China) / General Inspector of Customs (Taiwan)

[Chinese Customs Flag]
image by Ivan Sache and C.E. Baldwin

According to Album des Pavillons (2000), the custom's flag is still in use, as well as the flag of the General Inspector of Customs, a green field with a yellow saltire and the canton of the national flag in the middle.
Ivan Sache, 25 November 1999

Customs Ensign 1912-28

[Chinese Customs Flag] image by Miles Li, 17 August 2006
Source: Chinese Maritime Customes Project

Customs flag of China and Taiwan

[Chinese Customs Flag] image by Željko Heimer

The national flag with green serrated stripes. Construction sheet is similar to the civil ensign.

As in the case of civil ensign, the usage of this flag still has to be confirmed - it was once used, but now it seems that it is altogether replaced by the national flag, and for a long time no one reported it seen in use (as far as I am aware).
Željko Heimer, 4 February 2003

The Custom's flag shown in the 1939 Flaggenbuch and dates from the Republic of China (Kuomintang regime). I don't know if it is still in use, and the 1990 Album des Pavillons shows a different flag for the Director General of Customs, which is also shown in Flaggenbuch.
Norman M. Martin, 1998-March-30

A flag similar to this is shown in the 1930 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships as well as being identified by Whitney Smith (Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, 1975) as the Merchantile ensign. The flag differs in that it has of the yellow and gold stripes shown instead of the green stripes shown in this flag.
Glen Robert-Grant Hodgins, 1998-March-30

I believe this flag is no longer valid.
Armand Noel du Payrat, 29 November 1999

I received a reply from Republic of China representatives in Tokyo that they have not seen the yellow or green striped flag in Taiwan.
Nozomi Kariyasu

People's Republic of China Customs Flag

image by Miles Li, 17 August 2006 (using emblem by Zach Harden)

The customs-flag of China is the state flag with a key and the staff of Mercurius crossed in the lower right corner. The flag was adopted 1949.

Source: Christian Fogd Pedersen - Flaggor i färg, 1973
Marcus Wendel, 15 September 1999

The Chinese Customs no longer uses the special ensign, and flies the usual state flag instead; the 'key and staff' emblem, however, remains the official badge of the Customs.
Miles Li, 14 November 1999