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Chinese Imperial Nautical Flags

Last modified: 2004-10-23 by
Keywords: china | chinese empire |
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See also:

Rank Flags, 1905

These flags are for officers of the Imperial Chinese Navy. Note that the Chinese titles listed in the book were not correct at the time of its publication, and I have included the correct Chinese title below.

Admiral
[Admiral rank flag] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"

Admiral (Zhengdutong): six horizontal stripes, blue-white-yellow-red-green-black, with a Chinese dragon in blue in the white rectangle at the centre of the flag.


Vice Admiral (Fudutong): five horizontal stripes, blue-white-yellow-red-green, with a Chinese dragon in blue in the white rectangle at the centre of the flag.


Rear Admiral (Xiedutong): as vice admiral, but dragon in the white canton.


Commodore
[Commodore rank flag] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"

Commodore: I don't think this rank actually existed, but the flag was reported to be four horizontal stripes, black-white-yellow-red, with a Chinese dragon in blue in the white canton.


Senior Officer: Swallow-tailed, four horizontal stripes, red-yellow-green-white.

Source: Flaggenbuch, 1905
Miles Li, 20 March 2001


First Class Admiral, North Squadron

[Admiral's flag]
by Mario Fabretto

I usually don't deal with rank flags but imperial China must be an exception for the extreme interest and mystery of its rank flags. This is the flag of a first class admiral of the north squadron. It comes from the 1882 USA navy flag book. Other flags, from other sources also, show various combinations of coloured stripes and devices (mainly dragons). One has to note that these flag are not from the republican time (when the striped State flag was used), but they preceded it. In XIX c. sources, a flag of four stripes is often shown for China (better, for Nanking) and after 1911 many striped flags (of unknown colours) were used in Xinjiang. So, in parallel with the dragon, striped flags are of old tradition in China: the rank flags seems to unify these two aspects. It should be interesting to collect a bigger number of them and try to understand the meanings of the different numbers of stripes and the different colour combinations.
Mario Fabretto, 27 April 1997


The significances of the colours of the stripes can be interpreted as:

THE FIVE COLOURS together corresponded to the principal colours of the ancient Chinese 'five ways' philosophy. (Page 108 of Whitney Smith's Flags Through the Ages and Across the World describes these concepts. Note also that blue and green were used interchangeably to represent East.)
Miles Li, 07 July 1999


Commodore of Southern Escadre

[Southern Escadre Commodore] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"


Admiral on a Sailing Ship

[Admiral on a sailing ship] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"


Admiral on a Steamship

[Admiral on a steamship] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"


Merchant Ensign, 1903-1912

[Merchant Ensign]
by Mario Fabretto


I made some images for the booklet of Aldo Ziggioto (president of CISV) "Dove l'oriente e' rosso: Viaggio vessillologico in Cina e dintorni" distributed as supplement of the "Rivista Marittima, n. 6 June 1996" and, among the others, I also made one for the civil ensign 1903-1912.

The text on the booklet relative to the civil ensign says (more or less):

...In the year 1872 the war and civil ensigns were identical, to make some distinction was necessary: it was decided that the merchant ensign should be a red rectangular flag, charged with a yellow disk in the center. This flag was indeed that of the Chinese shipping line. ... omitted ... The merchant ensign remained unchanged until 1903, when on the yellow disk were placed one (for ships of a single shipowner) or two dragons (two or more shipowners).

Mario Fabretto, 27 April 1997

W. J. Gordon, in the 1915 edition of Flags of the World, stated that the red flag with a yellow disc was that of the China Merchant Steam Navigation Company, and the popular belief that it was the Chinese Merchant Ensign was a mistake. It seems that the addition of one or two dragons onto the disc was an attempt to design a flag which was distinctive yet would not be mistaken by the public. It is doubtful whether the ensign had any official status, and indeed whether it was regularly flown, although it did feature as a decoration on calendars, etc., used in China during that era.
Miles Li, 02 February 1999

See also:

Cigarette Card Depiction
[Merchant Ensign] by Antonio Martins
Source: http://www.rbvex.it/interpag/alfabetc.html

This is one of 50 cards series entitled "Countries Arms & Flags" issued by John Player & Sons, a branch of the British Imperial Tobacco Company, in 1905. Other series issued by this Company are "Flags of the League of Nations" (1928) and "National Flags and Arms." (1936).
Antonio Gutierrez, 1 September 2004


Rank Flags Circa 1900-1909


Admiral

[Admiral rank flag] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"

Commodore
[Commodore rank flag] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"


Ensigns circa 1916

[Chinese Saltire Ensign] by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"

The saltire design shows that this was probably used during 1916, when Yuan Shih-Kai was Emperor of China.
Miles Li, 18 May 2002

Land Flag
[Chinese by Oskar Myszor
source: "Okrety Wojenne"

The saltire design shows that this was probably used during 1916, when Yuan Shih-Kai was Emperor of China.
Miles Li, 18 May 2002

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