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Qing Dynasty: Beiyang Fleet, 1894-1895 (China)

Last modified: 2015-02-28 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: china | qing dynasty | naval rank flags | dragon | anchor |
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Overview

Below are the rank flags of the Imperial Chinese Navy Beiyang Fleet, as flown during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. They are as shown in the "Fujian Arsenal" temporary exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
Miles Li, 22 May 2007


Admiral (Tidu) of the Beiyang Fleet

Beiyang fleet admiral
image by Miles Li and Mario Fabretto, 22 September 2014

I usually don't deal with rank flags but imperial China must be an exception for the extreme interest and mystery of its rank flags. This is the flag of a first class admiral of the north squadron. It comes from the 1882 US navy flag book. Other flags, from other sources also, show various combinations of coloured stripes and devices (mainly dragons). One has to note that these flag are not from the republican time (when the striped State flag was used), but they preceded it. In XIX c. sources, a flag of four stripes is often shown for China (better, for Nanking) and after 1911 many striped flags (of unknown colours) were used in Xinjiang. So, in parallel with the dragon, striped flags are of old tradition in China: the rank flags seems to unify these two aspects. It should be interesting to collect a bigger number of them and try to understand the meanings of the different numbers of stripes and the different colour combinations.
Mario Fabretto, 27 April 1997


The significances of the colours of the stripes can be interpreted as:

  • YELLOW symbolized imperial authority.
  • WHITE was of ambiguous significance; however, this colour was quite highly regarded by the Manchurian bureaucracy, second only to yellow.
  • BLACK, GREEN and RED represented North, East and South respectively; these symbolized the Northern, Eastern and Southern Squadrons, the three fleets of the Chinese Navy.

THE FIVE COLOURS together corresponded to the principal colours of the ancient Chinese 'five ways' philosophy. (Page 108 of Whitney Smith's Flags Through the Ages and Across the World describes these concepts. Note also that blue and green were used interchangeably to represent East.)
Miles Li, 07 July 1999


Fleet Commander of the Beiyang Fleet

fleet commander, beiyang fleet
image by Miles Li, 22 September 2014


Squadron Commander of the Beiyang Fleet

squadron commander, beiyang fleet
image by Miles Li, 22 September 2014

squadron commander, beiyang fleet
image by Jaume Ollé, 22 September 2014

According a photo taken in the Revolution Museum of Peking, the flag of squadron commander is slighty different.
Jaume Ollé, 22 September 2014