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I found an flag in my old (1844ish) atlas for China: yellow with a black
dragon, fringed with blue.
Josh Fruhlinger, 11 May 1996
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 chosen. 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
On a webpage dedicated to some Asian symbols, the Chinese dragon is presented as follows:
The dragon was the symbol of Imperial power. When not disturbed for a trivial reason, the dragon was beneficent. As the master of life-giving rain, it was the symbol of fecundity.
There were three kinds of dragons:
1) The celestial dragon was the most powerful dragon. It transmitted to the emperor the cosmic power required to reign and to promote the harmonious development of life. When the Emperor did not respect the cosmic order, the celestial dragon withdrew his cosmic power. The concept of celestial or cosmic order was introduced by the Zhu dynasty (c. 1025-256 BP) in order to justify its overthrowing of the Shang (18th century-c. 1025 BP) dynasty.
There were several variations in the representation of the celestial dragon. The model dragon has a reptilian body covered with 81 (9x9) fish scales. It has a camel's head and bears antlers. Its four tiger's legs end with falcon's claws. When the dragon was Imperial, it had five claws; it had four or three claws for lower social ranks. The vassal countries of China, Korea and Japan, were represented by a four-clawed and three-clawed dragon, respectively.
The celestial dragon is often represented with a pearl ("zhu") it holds either in its jaws or claws. The pearl symbolized power and glory.
A yellow dragon symbolized the Emperor.
2) The water dragons watched engulfed treasures. There were four such king-dragons, each reigning over one of the four seas of the four orients. A fisher throwing a fish back into the water was often rewarded by the water dragon. Several tales relate the adventures of heroes exploring engulfed palaces full of treasures.
3) The cave dragons.
Ivan Sache, 3 September 2005
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
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)