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Flag of General Derge Se (Tibet)

Last modified: 2014-05-29 by zoltán horváth
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[Flag of General Derge Se]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 20 March 2014

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I found a new Tibetan flag. We can see a photograph of it in The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, written by Thomas Laird and the 14th Dalai Lama. You can find the book on Google Books. The photo is on the third plate (p. 264) and its caption on the next one.
The caption reads: "General Derge Sey's Tibetan flag (facing, top left), Markham, Tibet, 1949. It was probably given to the Chinese when Derge Sey surrendered in 1950."
And we can read in the list of illustrations (p. XV): "p. 8. Top left, photograph of the Tibetan Flag, which belonged to General Derge Sey, the Tibetan general who surrendered to Chinese in 1950 at Markham, Tibet, 1949. Photograph by Ellis R. Back: shot on a kodachrome slide, in Markham."
Derge Se, born Phuntsok Dorje, was the son of the prince of Derge, in eastern Tibet. He fled from a Chinese invasion in 1908 to go to Lhasa where he was appointed General in the Tibetan Army.
Despite its little size, we can zoom on the flag (thanks to Google). It is basically the Tibetan flag, but it seems square rather than rectangular. We can see on the hoist three piece of cloth lighter than the golden / yellow border: two squares on top and bottom and a triangle in the middle. I guess this is the Tibetan heading system. Unlike the Tibetan flag, there are no flaming jewels above the wishing gem in the lions' paws (they only raise their background paws). Instead, there is a red or orange (it's hard to say as the colours have waned) kalachakra symbol, but the lions don't hold it. Finally, there is a golden "da" letter (ད, if I'm correct) above the sun. This letter probably stands for "dapön" (General).
Some words about the Kalachakra : the word is used both for a tantric deity and its philosophy and practices. Its symbol is called the "The Tenfold Powerful One" and consists of an ornamental ring of fire, then the main symbol which combines seven individual syllables, on top are a crescent, a disc and a curved shape, making ten. The syllabes are written in lantsa script. Surrounding the main symbol is a kind of frame made of flames, which corresponds to the outermost "Circle of Wisdom" of the mandala. On the left and right of the actual Tenfold Powerful symbol are the Lantsa characters for E and VAM, representing the union of respectively emptiness (E) and bliss (VAM).
More information at:
Corentin Chamboredon, 2 December 2008

Tadang regiment of the Tibetan Army

I could find a copy of The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, written by Thomas Laird (Grove Press, 2006), and I checked the military flag described as belonging to general Derge Se (his name is written Derge Sey, but Se is more accurate).
The flag is still different from the Tibetan flag and from the flag of the Khadang regiment. It is square as the one used by Khadang, but has a light red /pinky border on three sides except the fly. The color is clearly different from the red sections. It has two yellow squares and one lozenge in the hoist border. There are no yellow section and the lower hoist section is blue and the lower fly is red, contrary to the flag used by Khadang regiment. The sun is golden (it has not the same shade as the squares) and has only one ray per section. Above it, there is a golden "Ta" letter (ཏ), and not a "Da" letter as I initially wrote. Instead of the wish-fulfilling jewels, there is a light red kalachakra symbol. The lions don't hold it, but they hold something that looks like the yin-yang symbol which appear on the Tibetan flag.
I therefore think that this flag, which may have indeed belonged to general Derge Se, represents in fact Tadang regiment, as the letter Da doesn't appear in the name of the regiment, but there is a Da in "Derge Se". It can still stand for dapön (general). In A history of modern Tibet, Melvyn Goldstein states this regiment had served in Eastern Tibet. Derge Se came from this area and became governor of the lands which fell to the Tibetan army in the 1930s. He was based in Markham, where Tibet Encyclopaedia locates Tadang regiment.
Corentin Chamboredon, 20 March 2014

I can't recall whether we had a source for that: Do we know for certain the sectors are in obverse in both sides? Or could all those regimental flags have blue at the lower hoist on both sides?
It would seem your image still has one extra ray (which I can't now point at as I accidentally clicked your message closed).
We may have to do a bit on terminology, here. As I understand it:
- The three jewels are depicted as three shapes next to each-other, usually with a lot of flame-like aspect above them for being radiant jewels. This is the upper symbol, that sometimes is supported by the lions' paws (and sometimes isn't).
- The wishing gem, wish-fulfilling gem, etc., is depicted as a burning ball with a flame in three directions, an eight-spoked wheel or other round symbol, itself bearing a taijitu, a gakill, or another supreme symbol. This is the lower symbol, that is usually held by the lions' paws (though occasionally only reached for).
Is that correct, or not? (And either way, which remarks need rewording?)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 20 March 2014

You are right, we are not sure of that. Concerning this flag, I can say for sure that the blue section also appear at the hoist on the obverse. There is a color photograph on the following plate, showing that side.
Indeed. I send a corrected image.
Yes, and to make things worse, they both are represented very similarly.
See that page:
It can be depicted as a burning ball, or as something very close to the three jewels, but not as a wheel nor a gankhyil. I realize I perhaps used both terms when speaking of the same symbol. I should have been more cautious.
The difference between the two is very small and I think it depends a lot of the context of the image.
The thing is, the wish-fulfilling gem doesn't appears either on the Tibetan flag, since there is a blue and yellow yin-yang style thing. A gankhyil is similar but has three or four swirls instead of two. Instead of this yin-yang symbol, other things appear on these military flags. Khadang regiment has some curiosity I couldn't identify, this flag has some round thing but where I can't see different colors. Mr Shakabpa still talked of a third symbol, the "three eyed jewel", whis is often depicted as a trefoiled jewel.
Corentin Chamboredon, 20 March 2014

So, we'll mostly be going by their location, I expect. The upper one can be the triple jewel, etc. The lower one can be the wishing gems, and associates.
I'm tempted to say this illustrator doesn't know what he's drawing. But  let's limit ourselves to the flags: The wishing gem is the lower one.  It, or whatever is in it's place, is a round base of some sort bearing a supreme symbol of some sort. Until we encounter the stuff illustrated in that book between two lions on a Tibetan flag, we can ignore whether that too is meant as a wishing gem.
But since we know from the description that, as far as Tibetan flag  symbolism is concerned, that is indeed a wishing gem, we'd better use a description that does include the depiction found there, and similar constructs found on related flags. That's why I was using that wider description, that maybe doesn't match the book, but does match what we saw in the flags.
In the same plate, he considers a gakill a depiction of the triple jewels. It may be that there are locations where this is true, but it doesn't help us here. Until we have clearer information from a Tibetan bannerist, I suggest we consider whatever is between the lions to be a representation of the gem, and whatever is over them a representation of the jewels.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 24 March 2014

The upper or lower jewel would be much simpler for a better understanding, indeed.
The "Ta" letter is a strong indication that this is the flag of Tadang regiment, and since this letter doesn't appear in the general's name, we can assume it wasn't his rank flag.
Corentin Chamboredon, 24 March 2014