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Chinese Republic - Naval Ensign

Last modified: 2020-07-31 by ian macdonald
Keywords: china | chinese republic | sun | war flag |
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Naval Ensign (1912-)

[Naval Ensign of the China Republic]
image by Miles Li, 30 April 2015

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.
C. Eugene Baldwin, 06 December 1998

Naval flags were adopted on August 1st, 1912 (see the official gazette: in Chinese)
Akira Oyo, 30 March 2014

I created corrected flag images of Chinese Naval Flags as officially specified in 1912. The main corrections are on proportions (3:4 rather than 2:3) and the dimensions of the white sun and the red stripes.
Naval Ensign - Basically the same as the post-1928 national flag, but the diameter of the sun was only half the width of the canton, with the length of each ray equaled to only half the radius of the disc. Proportions 3:4.
Miles Li, 30 April 2015

Unofficial Naval Ensign (1912)

[Unofficial Naval Ensign (1912)]
image by Miles Li, 13 September 2014

"But for the naval flag designs: before their enactment in Shanghai, the naval crews have already self-made three flags: white with a canton in red, and at the centre of the red is a yellow disc; after the enactment in Shanghai, these flags have become unsuitable for naval ships."
Source: Government Gazette (16 May 1912, No.16, Page 555):
It is obvious that this flag was inspired by the British White Ensign, with the then house flag of China Merchants Steam Navigation Company in the canton - clear evidence of how the house flag, mistaken as the Chinese merchant ensign by the West, led to it being mistaken as a Chinese national flag even among the Chinese themselves!
Miles Li, 13 September 2014

Does this refer to three actual specimen? Only one design is mentioned.
How is it that the Chinese considering the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company flag the China Merchants ensign would have been caused by "the West" doing so? Wouldn't it seem more logical if cause and effect were the other way round?
(Are these names as confusing in Chinese as they are in English, BTW? If it's all about a flag used by commercial Chinese steam ships, it gets a bit difficult to determine whether it's a description or a name.)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 April 2015

It would be referring to three actual specimens.
Until the early 20th Century the concept of 'the' national flag was not very clear in the West, and even less so in China; flag charts in the West at the time would usually identify a nation's 'Naval Ensign' and 'Merchant Ensign', rather than 'national flag'. The naval crews who created the self-made flags would have had access to these flags charts, and the officers would have learnt basic English to read them. After all, their self-made flags would have been inspired by some of the naval ensigns (especially the British White Ensign and the German Reichskriegsflagge) on those flag charts.
Interestingly, British American Tobacco produced two calendars for the Chinese market in 1911 and 1912, both featuring a red flag with a yellow disc (bearing a dragon) next to a yellow flag with a dragon:  (1911)  (1912)
China Merchants Steam Navigation Company was a government-run business (its original Chinese name 輪船招商局 literally means 'Steamship Merchants Bureau').
Miles Li, 12 April 2015

They created an ensign that matched the pattern of the Atlantic ones (either from charts or from encounters), even if no flag actually matches that pattern exactly: A white field with another flag in the canton. But how do we know what other flag they picked? (Would they have had so many flags at hand to choose from?) Would there have been a reason to specifically pick a Merchant Ensign?
If what they picked was the flag of the government-controlled monopolist Chinese merchant ships, while I agree that to someone able to read a bit of European that would be close to what some of the Atlantic cantons were about, I see no reason why it would require that that flag was misrepresented in the charts. It seems to me it would simply be the flag they were used to, whether they picked it to match the others or not.
I do see, on the other hand that it might be difficult to determine the status of the yellow moon red sky flag in Western terms. With some sources explaining it as a merchant ensign, and others as a house flag, is there a way for us to determine how the flag was seen by those who used it before 1912, or by those who introduced it?
We have some of the tree trunks in one spot, and the snake in another, but I don't think we truly know the elephant.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 April 2015

There is no question that the red field-yellow moon flag was the house flag of China Merchants Steam Navigation Company. The question is whether it was used as a merchant ensign. Until we have good photographic evidences we cannot say for sure.
Miles Li, 12 April 2015

The Naval Ensign (1942-1945 - Japanese Puppet State)

[Republic of China Naval Ensign]
image by Miles Li, 22 March 2014

Chinese Naval Ensign adopted on May 1st 1942.
The red ensign charged with white sun on blue sky in canton and white cross.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 13 December 2009

It was the naval ensign of Nanjing Puppet State.
Akira Oyo, 06 April 2014

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