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Design of the current Chinese flag

Last modified: 2002-02-23 by phil nelson
Keywords: china | construction sheet: china |
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In El Popola Cinio 2184 (an esperanto magazine published by the Chinese Government for abroad propaganda), I found an article about the national emblems. The text is quite bombastic and even politically biased, but nonetheless quite useful:

The red color is said to symbolize revolution and the five stars (four smaller pointing to the larger) the "great unity of the chinese people under the guidance of the C.C.P."; the yellow symbolizes "light on the red background". No reference to any of the two explanations for the stars: neither the official (peasantery, proletariate, army and "progressive capitalists" -- under C.C.P.) nor the alleged (tibetans, uyghurs, mongols and manchus under the Han chinese)... An interesting sentence states that "The modest and majestic yellow not only harmonizes itself with the red, but also symbolizes the yellow race of the chinese nation".

In 1949.06.16, the Chinese People's Political Inter-advise (?!) Conference set up a comittee to decide on national symbols, which put an ad to the people in the newspapers of 1949.07.14-08.15. During that month were recivied 3012 proposals for the national flag, from wich 38 were selected in 1949.09 to be presented to the first session of C.P.P.I.C. for discussion and decision. All representatives choose the current flag (!) and its design was officially aproved in 1949.09.27. In 1949.10.01, president Mao Zedong hoisted the flag over the Tiananmen square for the first time.

The author of the aproved proposal was Zeng Liangsong, "economy worker" (economist?), a natural born amateur artist, keen on poetry, painting and calligraphy. He projected his proposal bearing in mind that the flag should be "modest and majestic, embodying the idea of State power and the features of chinese history, geography, nationhood and culture."

The construction sheet shows a 2:3 rectangle divided into four quarters, with the upper hoist (honour) one further divided in 150 (10x15) squares (this part sent as CN_CONST.GIF). the larger star is inscribed in a circle centered at (5,5) position and with a radius of 3. The smaller stars have a radius of 1 and are centered at the positions (10,2), (12,4), (12,7) and (10,9). All four are pointing to the center of the larger star -- if my trigonometry isn't failing, these are the tilts of each star, respective to the 0 deg. position (and not the 90-72=18 deg. position that we usually call "upright position" for 5pointed stars):

x = 5; y = 3; 36.86989765 deg.
x = 7; y = 1; 8.213210702 deg.
x = 7; y = 2; 16.60154960 deg.
x = 5; y = 4; 53.13010235 deg.
Antonio Martins, 28 October 1997

See the upper hoist detail (1/4th) of the Chinese national flag here.

Design of the Chinese Flag

The recent death of the designer of the Chinese national flag prompted a friend of mine, Ying Wang Ph.D, to give me a text she found in a recent issue of a magazine. We made a rough summary from the Chinese text:

Old story about the National Flag by Zhi Bai

first printed in Jiefang Ribao (Liberation Daily) July 26, 1999 reprinted in Qingnian Wenzhai November, 1999

Zeng Liansong, the designer of the Chinese National Flag, has been sick for 20 years, and could not speak any more for the last year, but he wanted to live at least until the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the Peoples Republic on October 1st 1999. The reporter has visited him several times in the last years and presents the story of the national flag.

Zeng Liansong lived in Shanghai in 1949, shortly after the liberation of the city by the Communist Party. In July 1949 he read in the newspaper Jiefang Ribao (Liberation Daily), that designs for the flag and the coat-of-arms were wanted. As he liked painting, he considered himself qualified for the job; he also asked a friend, if he would consider him qualified. The friend answered, that he should try it.

For the design he took into consideration well-known symbols of communism: red colour, stars, hammer and sickle. As a symbol for the sun, under which the Chinese people lives after the liberation by the Communist Party (for instance mentioned in the well-known song "The East is Red") he decided to use the golden star as main element of the flag. He took a large star to symbolize the leadership of the Communist Party, and four smaller stars for the four classes (as mentioned by Mao Zedong: workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, patriotic capitalists).

In the first design he arranged these five stars along the hoist like a tie, but his friend was not satisfied. So he designed a new variant, essentially the flag as it has been adopted; the only difference was, that he added a red hammer and sickle emblem in the center of the big star.

There were 3012 proposals, from which 38 (including the one by Zeng Liansong) were chosen for the eventual decision by a committee. Many of the proposals were rejected, because they were too similar to flags used by the Soviet Union or other Communist Parties. The three favoured designs contained a red field with the golden star in the canton, and one, two or three thin golden horizontal bars dividing the flag in a larger (2/3) upper part and a smaller (1/3) lower part. The bars were to represent the rivers Huanghe, Yangtse and Zhu Jiang providing the basis for Chinese culture and history. Two committee members especially voted against these designs. Mr. Tian Han preferred the design by Zeng Liansong, that was just the 32nd of 38. Mr. Zhang Zhizhong (Guomindang) was against the designs with the golden bars, as these seemed to represent a separation of the country. Chairman Mao Zedong asked him, what he would prefer; he also voted for the design by Zeng Liansong, but without the hammer and sickle. So on September 27th the design by Zeng Liansong (without hammer and sickle) was approved, and on October 1st hoisted for the first time on Tiananmen Square.

A photo in the text shows an old Zeng Liansong displaying his second design.
Marcus Schmöger, 29 October 1999

Second proposal by Zeng Liansong

[Second proposal by Zeng Liansong]
by Marcus Schmöger

First proposal by Zeng Liansong

[First proposal by Zeng Liansong]
by Marcus Schmöger

Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal

[Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal]
by Marcus Schmöger

Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal

[Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal]
by Marcus Schmöger

Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal

[Reconstructed Chinese flag proposal]
by Marcus Schmöger

[Note: the reconstructions are based on estimates by the author and may not be accurate]

When the Communist nearly got to power, they try to collect flag designs from the people. Later when the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) were deciding the flag in September 1949, there was a design more favoured by the members than the five-star flag: one similar to Vietnam's but there is a horizontal stripe running immediately under the star, which meant Chinese (yellow race), Hwang He (Yellow River), and a united front towards Communism.

But some did oppose this flag as they thought the yellow stripe could symbolize the "fruits of revolution being 'cut off' ('the red flag of revolution cut by the stripe"), and an ex-KMT even told that to Mao Zedong. Mao then asked Zhou Enlai to check about the tendency on the choice of flags. Zhou reported the "star and stripe" flag would gain enough support to get a pass -- it gained some two-thirds to three quarters' support, but then there were those strongly opposed of this. He thought that Mao should change it to a flag that can be supported for all, and recommended the five-star. Later in a occasion, where some CPPCC members went to see Mao on the flag affair, Mao openly recommended the five-star -- so it was no surprise that the five star got passed unanimously on 27 September 1949.
Samuel Curtis, 17 November 1999

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