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History of the Chinese Republic flags

Last modified: 2006-09-23 by phil nelson
Keywords: china | chinese republic | taiwan | naval rank |
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China, 1912

The Manchu [Ch'ing] dynasty, which ruled China for more than three and a half centuries was over thrown. So, the days of the "dragon" flags were ended, replaced by the Sun Yat-sen Republic.

This brought about the establishment of some new flags, both national and rank flags.

The empire (dragon) flag was replaced by the quinta-color horizontal stripe flag. The Quinta-color flag of the Sun Yat-sen Republic became the National Flag.
C. Eugene Baldwin, 10 December 1998

China, 1913

State Ensign: One of the flags adopted at this time was the State Ensign. Although, the dates are unknown to me, the indications were that it was used very sparingly.

Merchants' Ensign: Some reports have indicated that the canton of the State Ensign was used as the merchant ensign. I could find no evidence, not to say there is none, to substantiate this claim. I believe that Mario Fabretto agrees with this statement based on his post shown on the web site. This flag known as a historical war flag.

Naval Ensign: The naval ensign adopted was the red flag with the KMT [Nationalist China] flag used in the canton. This flag is the same flag as posted to the FOTW web site as the Republic of China national flag. The Royal Navy Signaling Handbook, of 1913, shows this flag as the only naval flag for China at that time. Also, there are several editions of Jane's Fighting Ships 1919 & 1925 & 1927 and according to the post of Mr. Glen Robert-Grant Hodgins, he confirms the claim in the 1919 as well as the 1930 editions. However, the 1930 edition may have been a roll-over from a couple of years earlier.

Jack: The quinta-color national flag was adopted as the Jack. This is supported by the National Geographic, 1917, page 347, item #566. I have no further documentation to draw from but, I am of the opinion that this flag remained the Jack until Chiang Kai-shek of the Chinese Nationalist assumed the head of Government in 1928. The jack being replaced at that time.

Rank Flags: Therefore, having stated some basic underlying conditions, we approach the Naval Rank Flags. Here, the National Geographic of 1917 , page 347, item #559 -#560 - #561 - #562 - #564 and #565 reflects the full complement of rank flags. These were apparently adopted in the mid-1913 time-frame and accounts for the fact that the Royal Navy Signaling Handbook of 1913 illustrated only the Naval Ensign.

1.) Secretary of the Navy [NG #559] - This flag is a dark blue field with crossed anchors of white, centered. I have no further information on this flag, but like so many others, indications are that it survived until the Nationalist take-over in 1928 and it underwent a design modification at that time.

2.) Admiral [NG #560] - This flag is the KMT [Nationalist Chinese Party] flag, or dark blue field with white, twelve-ray sun centered. This flag would be changed, or slightly modified in 1928 by the Nationalist Government.

3.) Vice-Admiral [NG #561] - This flag is the same as the Admiral's Flag with the exception that a narrow red stripe has been placed along the bottom edge. Strangely, this flag would be adopted by the 1928 Nationalist Government with out change.

4.) Rear-Admiral [NG #562] - Here again, the KMT Flag is used by the addition of a narrow red stripe along the edge at the top and bottom. This flag would be used from 1913 and be re-adopted by the Nationalist in 1928.

5.) Commodore [NG #564] - The commodore's rank flag would be identical to the Admirals except it would be a swallow-tail/forked configuration.

6.) Senior Officer [NG #565] - The senior officer rank flag would be the same as the Commodore, except for the narrow red stripe along the bottom edge.

C. Eugene Baldwin, 10 December 1998

China 1928-49, Taiwan 1949-

The following changes are reflected by Grossen Flaggenbuch 1939-1941 and Flags of All Nations 1955. Confirmed by Ivan Sache and Jaume Ollé in their messages.

The Chinese Nationalist gained control of the Government and some flag changes were adopted. These included slight modifications of the Rank Flags and a replacement of the quinta-color national flag which meant a change in the Jack. The former naval ensign [as above] was up-graded to the National Flag and the canton or [KMT Flag] was chosen to replace the quinta-color Jack.

1.) Secretary of the Navy - The Nationalist take-over of 1928 caused a minor design modification. I could find no documentation to support the note I have that the design remained the same except a narrow red border was placed along all edges. As no evidence exist, from my available sources, it does stand the test of rational deduction since all other rank flags were modified by adding, if not already present, narrow red elements.

2.) Admiral - The former rank flag was the KMT flag. Thus, the adoption of this flag as the jack, necessitated a modification to the Admiral's Rank Flag. This was accomplished by adding a narrow red stripe along the topmost edge of the existing flag.

Note: A story told to me many years ago involved the selection of the Chinese Nationalist jack and admiral rank flag went something to this effect. Several Admirals complained to Chiang Kai-shek about taking all the admiral flags for jacks and they were left without the highest naval rank flag. So until more flags were approved and manufactured, the admirals would be undistinguished by an approved rank flag. To which he replied by grabbing a Vice-Admiral's flag near by and turning it upside down and saying "Admiral behold you newly approved rank flag." Which may explain why all the remaining flags were changed to include red stripes in some manner.

3.) Vice-Admiral - This flag is the same as the Admiral's Flag with the exception that the narrow red stripe is along the bottom edge. This flag is the same as its predecessor in the former regime and the above story may indicate why there was no change. I do not know.

4.) Rear-Admiral - Here again, the previous rank flag was re-adopted by the Nationalist in 1928.

5.) Commodore - The commodore's rank flag was as its predecessor, but with a narrow red strip along the edges of the swallowtail/fork.

6.) Senior Officer - The senior officer rank flag was unchanged and includes the red stripe same as the Vice-Admiral but is swallowtail/forked.

With out proper verification, I can only say that I have been told that these same rank flags are still in use by the now titled Republic of China [Taiwan].
C. Eugene Baldwin, 10 December 1998

Other Republic flags

Crampton's The Flags of the World has five pictures of pre-revolutionary Chinese flags taken from a collection of cigarette cards. He stated that the flags were used in pre-revolution China and are still in use.
Jorge Candeias, 30 March 1998

For image, see also:

The 1995 recapitulative issue of the 1990 Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des états et des principales organisations internationales lists these flags for Taiwan (different from Album 2000) and shown in Flaggenbuch.

Flags shown in Flaggenbuch:

Željko Heimer, 6-10 February 2003

Chinese double flags

During the 1920s, China was controlled by a number of regional warlords. The faction loyal to Dr Sun Yat-Sen (the founder of the republic in 1911) and Chiang Kai-Shek (Sun's successor) occupied southern China, and had to fight a civil war in order to unify the nation. In order to distinguish itself in battle, Chiang's army adopted a new range of flags:

Army Officers' College: Red, with a white sun on a blue disc in the centre. (Similar to Taiwan President's Flag)

Army: Red, with a white sun on a blue rectangle in the centre. (Same as Taiwan Army Flag)

Commander-in-chief: Army flag with white border (10% of the width of the army flag) on all sides except the hoist; a shorter vertical white strip, bearing the Chinese title 'Nationalist Revolutionary Army Commander-in-Chief' in black, was sewn into the red field near the hoist. Above the flag a small white triangular pennon (25% of the width of the army flag) bearing the Chinese letter for 'Chief' in red; proportion of the pennon 2:3. Both flags sewn onto one piece of white sleeve. This flag was used by Chiang Kai-Shek between 1926 and 1928. (Compare this with the modified, 1953 version of Commander-in-chief flag in page 110 of Whitney Smith's Flags Through the Ages and Across the World)

After the civil war ended in 1928 the Nationalist army continued to use the Army flag and the Army Officers' College flag, at first in mainland China, then in Taiwan, to this very day.

In addition, generals of Chiang's army had their own flags, their designs varied according to the taste of individual general. Generally these were blue flags, often 'double flags' with a small flag above a larger one. Apart from the mandatory white sun, these flags featured a variety of Chinese words - title of office, the word 'command', even the general's surname - a feature thought to be characteristic of generals' flags in ancient China.
Miles Li, 10 January 2000, 11 January 2000

Editorial Note: Historically, when the People's Republic of China was proclaimed by the communist factions, the nationalist China Republic took residence in Taiwan beginning in 1949.