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Flags of Asia

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china flag

The current Chinese flag has been used since 1949, after the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War. Once the current government was established, the party created notices in several national newspapers looking for designs of a national flag. A citizen named Zeng Liansong spent several days in his attic, brainstorming ideas and designs for a new flag to display his patriotic support for the country. Eventually, on a July evening, he gained inspiration from staring into the night sky and counting the stars. 

Zeng respected his government and viewed them as “great saviors” and felt this symbolism should be most prominent on the flag. For this, Zeng designed the largest star on the Chinese flag to represent the government. The idea for four smaller stars surrounding the large one was inspired from a Mao Zedong speech, in which he defines China being constructed from four social classes: the working class, the peasants, the urban bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie. Zeng chose a red background for symbolism of the revolution, and yellow as the color for the stars to show that China belonged to a “yellow race”.

Zeng had originally finished the flag with the “hammer and sickle” image planted in the middle of the largest star on the flag, but this was later removed when his design was chosen in a Beijing hotel due to being too similar to the Soviet Union’s design. The flag was officially revealed to the public in Tiananmen Square on 1 October 1949, the official founding of the People’s Republic of China.


Hong Kong

hong kong flag

The flag of Hong Kong is rather new relative to others, a result from Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. Previously, Hong Kong’s flag was a British blue ensign with the Hong Kong coat of arms displayed on it. In the early 1990s in preparation for the handover, Hong Kong required a new flag to mark the city’s post-colonial history. China appointed architect Tao Ho as one of the panel judges to pick Hong Kong’s new flag. Hong Kong residents were asked for submissions on ideas and designs for potential flags. Six were chosen but later rejected by China. One day, Ho wandered into a garden and picked a Bauhinia blakeanaflower. The inspiration of the five symmetric petals encouraged him to incorporate the design into the Hong Kong flag. Eventually, the five stars on China’s flag were woven into the Hong Kong’s five flower petals, to symbolize the unity of the “One country, two systems” law that Hong Kong operates under.

The status of Hong Kong as a “Special Administrative Region” of China requires the Hong Kong flag to follow certain protocol when flown in conjunction with China’s. When the two are displayed together, the Hong Kong flag must always be flown to the left of the Chinese, and the Hong Kong must always be smaller than the Chinese.


korea flagSouth Korea

The South Korean flag, also known as Taegukgi, was originally adopted only as a necessity when Korea began opening itself to foreign negotiations. Originally, the government had seen the creation of a flag as unnecessary and useless, but that opinion changed when Korea began negotiations with the Japanese Empire on a Treaty of Amity in the late 1800s. A Korean diplomat named Park Yeong-hyo created the first modern-looking Taegukgi and presented it to the government, who later declared it as the official national flag.

South Korea’s red and blue filled circle represents the philosophy of yin and yang, the positive and negative cosmic forces that created and hold the universe together. Four separate trigrams surround the central circle, each with a differing classical principal meaning. The meanings are categorical, with several categories. For example, one interpretation of the trigrams represents the celestial bodies of heaven, sun moon, and earth.


Japanjapan flag

Japan’s flag logically fits as a national representation when you take into account the country’s nickname of “The Land of the Rising Sun”. Japan’s flag consists of a simple white canvas with a perfect circle in the center. The sun plays an important role in Japanese culture, stemming from belief that the Japanese Emperor is said to be a direct descendant from the sun goddess. It’s logical that the Japanese flag would showcase the importance of this conviction. Being one of the oldest flags in Asia, the exact origin story of the flag is unknown. Some accounts trace the flag back before the 16th century, when the symbol was given by the Emperor to a Shogun warlord on a piece of parchment. Nonetheless, the flag was officially declared the national flag in 1870, a time when Japan sought to expand its empire. 


singapore flagSingapore

Being another former British colony, the current Singaporean flag is also quite new compared to others in Asia. When Singapore became a self-governing colony in 1959, the newly established government required a change of colors from the British Blue Crown Colony Ensign. In order to showcase Singapore’s diverse culture, the flag was designed to represent its two largest ethnic groups: Chinese people and Islamic Malays. The upper left corner of Singapore’s flag features a crescent moon next to a cluster of five stars. The five stars are borrowed from the Chinese flag, while the crescent moon became an iconographic symbol of Islam in the second half of the 20th century. The Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Rules states that the upper half of the flag, filled with red, symbolizes “universal brotherhood and equality of man” while the lower white half is chosen for “pervading and everlasting purity and virtue”.

Until 2004, outside the month of August, the Singaporean colors could only be flown outside of government facilities and a select few other places. Citizens and private establishments were only allowed to freely fly the flag in August, to celebrate the country’s national day on 9 August. However, the government relaxed this after 2004 in order to promote patriotism.



thailand flag

Thailand’s current flag has been in use since 1917 and is heavily influenced from the country’s political situation at the time. Thailand’s flag is symmetrical on both the horizontal and vertical axis, featuring stripes of red on the top and bottom, a stripe of white below the red, and a larger stripe of blue that crosses directly in the middle. The three colors are said to represent “nation-religion-king”, red for the country and people, white for Thailand’s freedom of religion, and blue for the country’s monarchy.

The current flag was designed by Thailand’s King Rama VI (or Vajiravudh). One legend says that during a flood, Vajiravudh was upset when we saw the former Thailand flag (featuring a large elephant) hanging upside down, and in order to prevent himself from seeing his country’s flag getting turned upside again, he wanted to create a new flag that would be symmetrical. While there may be some truth to this legend, a more likely story says that Vajiravudh wanted to create a new flag to mark Thailand’s entry into World War I. Thailand declared war on Germany in 1917 and wanted to show solidarity with the main Allied Powers (the UK, France, Russia and the United States) by borrowing the three colors (red, white and blue) represented in all of their flags.


indonesia flagIndonesia

While the Indonesian flag was officially declared back in 1945, its roots trace back to the 13th century. The flag’s colors were derived from the banner of the Majapahit Empire, an extensive empire lasting from 1293 – circa. 1500 that was arguably the largest and most influential empire in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The Majapahit’s flag consisted of red and white horizontal stripes across the canvas. Indonesia’s modern flag adopted the red and white horizontal line scheme, but brightened the red and simply split the layout in half, with the top being red and the bottom white. After World War II when Indonesia formally declared the national flag, some opinions of the flag expressed the red and white to have a more symbolic context rather than a historical one. Red being a representation of courage, while white denoting purity.


Vietnamvietnam flag

As a former French colony, the Vietnamese flag represents the uprising against colonial rule. The Viet Minh, a communist-led organization, led the country against French rule in the onset of World War II, and later against Japanese occupation of the country. When the war ended, the newly established North Vietnamese government adopted the flag as their national one. North Vietnam continued to use the flag throughout the Vietnam War Against America, and officially became the country’s flag after the reunification of North Vietnam and South Vietnam in 1976.

Vietnam’s flag is composed of a red canvas with a giant yellow star in the center. The star’s five points represent the five main classes of Vietnamese society – intellectuals, farmers, workers, businesspeople, and military personnel. The original designer of the flag, Nguyen Huu Tien stated the red represents the blood sacrificed from Vietnamese to obtain a sovereign state, while the yellow represents the skin color of Vietnamese people.


india flagIndia

India, once coined the “crown jewel of the British Empire”, received its independence in 1947 and, thus, needed to replace its British colonial flag. Early flag designs were inspired by independence movements from the early 20th century. The flag’s primary red stripe, white stripe and green stripe design came from the Indian National Congress flag, the political party led by Gandhi that eventually succeeded in receiving Indian independence. Gandhi’s proposed flag originally included a spinning wheel for fabric on the center, symbolizing India was able to fabricate their own clothing and was no longer dependent on colonial rule. However, the spinning wheel was eventually replaced by a Chakra (wheel), which was more representative of the concept of dharma, or the Indian “behaviors” that are considered to be in accord with Rta, the universe.

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