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Imperial Dragon Flag

Last modified: 2003-08-09 by phil nelson
Keywords: china | dragon | sun |
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Circa 1844 Flag

I found an flag in my old (1844ish) atlas for China: yellow with a black dragon, fringed with blue.

Josh Fruhlinger, 11 May 1996

One of three extracts from a memorandum sent to the Marine Department of the Board of Trade in connection with revisions to the pages of national ensigns in the International Code List published in 1879. [Public Record Office MT 9/183] China.

28 Aug 1862. Mr.Lay reported that China had no national flag. Ensigns on board Chinese vessels vary in hue and colour dependent upon the tastes of the commanders.

22 Oct 1862. Establishment of Anglo-Chinese fleet. Ensign agreed upon after correspondence with Chinese Government between Prince of Kung and Mr.Bruce. Flag to be three-cornered. For large vessels ten Chinese feet in the perpendicular, and for small vessels seven or eight. Length to be varied at discretion. Ground yellow on which will be designed a dragon with the head towards the upper part of the flag. Drawings of all flags of the Anglo-Chinese fleet published in London Gazette 13 Feb 1863.

18 Jan 1869. Correspondence between Her Majesty's Consul in Canton, British Admiral China Station and Governor Hong Kong on subject of shape of flag. Arranged that pending decision of Government at Peking the flag to be recognized would be square not three-cornered. Notice inserted in Hong Kong Gazette. No response from Peking Government.

These dates do not agree with those given in Whitney Smith's "Flags Through the Ages etc." page 108, where the three cornered flag is dated 1872-CA.1890 and the rectangular flag CA.1890-1912.
David Prothero, 17 April 2001

The Dragon Flags

There are many images of the chinese flags with the dragon made by western people who were unaware of the meaning of the number of talons on it. For the booklet of Mr. Ziggioto ("Dove l'Oriente e' rosso", supplemento alla Rivista Marittima n. 6 June 1996, A. Ziggioto) I drew up to five different versions of the dragon for the 1872 and 1890 flags, and, at the end, the two I sent were choosen. The dragon of the 1890 flag is taken from the U.S Navy flag book, while the one for the 1872 flag comes from Smith's book. In another version I drew, the dragon has five talons, but I must admit I don't have any source that can confirm the correct design for the 1872 dragon. By the way this flag derives from the war ensign adopted (or better that the Europeans adopted for China) in 1862 which was green with a yellow St.Andrew cross in the centre of which the dragon was placed. Sources like Rosenfeld show the dragon with four talons.

I am quite convinced that in the 1872 jack the dragon had five talons, but I lack evidence.
Mario Fabretto, 17 June 1997

The Dragon Flag (1872)

[Flag of China, 1872]
Mario Fabretto

This flag was the 1863 jack which became, in 1872 the State flag and naval ensign (partially modified in 1873).
Mario Fabretto, 14 June 1997

According to C. P. Fitzgerald, 'China, a short cultural history', London, 1988 (reprint), p. 112:

'The dragon was the rain spirit of the ancient Chinese. Unlike the western monster, the Chinese 'lung' was not an evil creature malevolent to mankind, but the rain giver who gathered the clouds, brought the welcome moisture and presided over the water courses.'
Jarig Bakker, 7 December 1998

The Dragon flag (1890's)

[Flag of China, 1890]
Mario Fabretto

This flag was the State flag and naval ensign from ~1890 until 1911.
Mario Fabretto, 14 June 1997

Ed Haynes found the following item in H-Net list for Asian History and Culture

Subj: Late Qing National Flag
From: Robert Bickers (

This must be the imperial yellow flag, embroidered with a dragon, which represents Chinese-Texans, and flies among the flags of other immigrant groups outside the ?Institute for Texas Cultures?, in San Antonio, where I saw it earlier this year. Possibly the only place in the world were the Qing standard still flies?

Dr Robert A. Bickers

Subj: "Dragon flag" of Qing
From: "Xu, Xiaoqun (David)" (XXu@ACS2.FMARION.EDU)

In May 1889 Zhang Yinhuan, a former official in the Zhonli Yamen and then in charge of the Capital Mineral Affairs and Railroad Bureau (Jingshi kuangwu tielu zongju), proposed to the imperial court to make this a "national flag." The yellow color represented the Manchu and the dragon represented the emperor. The proposal was adopted and the flag began to be used in 1900.

Source: Zhongguo Jindai Lishi Cidian (Jiangxi renmin chubanshe, 1986)

xiaoqun xu