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Military flags of the Peoples Republic of China

Last modified: 2015-08-06 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: china | military flag: china | naval ensign: china | star: yellow |
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According to Zuixin Geguo Guoqi Guohui Junqi Junhui [kyj04] (National Flags, Emblems, Military Flags and Emblems of The World; 最新 各国 国旗 国徽 〓旗 〓徽) published in Beijing March 2004, these flags were promulgated on September 5th 1992.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 July 2004


Today I saw a couple of Chinese warships visiting Sydney, and I must point out that both ships fly the plain red People's Liberation Army flag (proportions 4:5) as the ensign.

The PLA Navy's reversal from flying the striped "Navy Flag" back to the plain old PLA flag seems to be the result of following its flag protocol to the letter: according to the book Atlas of Flags in China, the Navy Flag (along with the Ground Force and Air Force Flags) are only intended to be used by Guards of Honour in branch-specific occasions. This means the plain red PLA flag remains de jure the sole War Flag and War Ensign of the Peoples Republic of China.

Also, the jackstaffs of these ships remain bare while in port; it is the PLA Navy practice to fly jacks only while dressing ships.
Miles Li, 30 September 2007

The People's Liberation Army

[People's Liberation Army] by Željko Heimer
Proportions: 4:5 [FIS Code]

The flag of the armed forces of the People's Republic of China (the People's Liberation Army [PLA]) is red with a golden star in the upper hoist, but the star is smaller than on the national flag. Next to the star are three small lines, the Chinese numerals for "8" and "1", which stand for "August 1", to commemorate the establishment of the PLA in 1928, after the Nanchang Uprising (Crampton, The World of Flags, 1990, p.28). W. Smith adds that the star represents the victories of the Army in the fight against foreign imperial forces and unification of the land.
Roy Stilling, 24 June 1996

According to the Great Chinese Encyclopedia, the flag of the People's Liberation Army is in the proportion of 4:5.
Miles George Li, 09 April 1998

This is a 'tri-service' flag, used primarily as a ceremonial colour by regiments and larger units, as well as by defence academies.
Source: PLA Daily
Miles Li, 12 July 2004

Ground Forces Flag

[People's Liberation Army Land Flag] by Željko Heimer

[Ed: see update in Overview section]

The Ground Force Flag is similar to the PLA Flag, with the lower 40% being grass green.
Source: PLA Daily
Miles Li, 12 July 2004

Reports on 'The World' on BBC4 TV on 18 April about the visit of President Hu to the U.S. were accompanied by (no doubt stock) footage of a parade by the Chinese army. The flag being carried seems to be what is shown.

The green is lighter than we show, and the device at the upper hoist isn't self-evidently a gold star.
André Coutanche, 20 April 2006

Naval Ensign

Album des Pavillion image
[China - Naval Ensign] by Željko Heimer
Proportions: ~2:3 [FIS Code]

Per PLA Daily description
[China - Naval Ensign] by Željko Heimer and Miles Li
Proportions: ~2:3 [FIS Code]
Source: PLA Daily

[Ed: see update in Overview section]

The Chinese Navy jack is the same as Army flag except that the lower half has three blue and two white horizontal stripes of equal width. The Chinese Naval jack is also the Naval Ensign.
Miles George Li, 03 April 1998

Album des Pavillons, correction 29 specifies that the stripes are blue pantone 287c and white. The rendering by quadrichomie makes it seem dark blue. The proportions appear to be 2:3.
Armand Noel du Payrat, 09 April 1998

Before 1996, the People's Liberation Army flag, rather than the national flag, was the naval jack and ensign.
Miles Li, 8 June 2001

The PLA Navy has never had rank flags, and I believe this will remain the status quo for a long time. Ranks have always been a sensitive issue in the PLA, as it is associated with classes in a supposedly classless society. Between 1955 and 1965 there were Soviet-style ranks in the PLA, but these were abolished during the Cultural Revolution and beyond. It was not until 1988 a somewhat streamlined rank system was adopted to raise morale. Even so, it would still be politically correct for senior officials to have no special privileges (such as the use of rank flags). This is the reason why the PLA Navy apparently has never had rank flags.
Miles Li, 10 June 2001

Over the years there have been uncertainties as to the correct flags to be flown on Chinese warships. Now the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) seems to have settled down on a set of practice, which varies depending on occasions:

Dressing Ship:
Jackstaff - PLA Flag
Masthead - National Flag
Ensign (stern) - PLAN Flag
Dressing Line - signal flags

Jackstaff - not used
Masthead - National Flag
Ensign (stern while moored, gaff while underway) - PLA Flag
Dressing Line - not used

Jackstaff - not used
Masthead - not used
Ensign (stern while moored, gaff while underway) - PLA Flag
Dressing Line - not used

It should be pointed out that the PLAN practice of having a special ensign for ceremonial occasions, while unusual, is not unique: Notably the former Soviet Navy had honour ensigns (with the Guards ribbon, the Order of Red Banner, or both) to be flown by ships so entitled on ceremonial occasions, and (I believe) this tradition has been carried over into the current Russian Navy.
Miles Li, 06 October 2013

Air Force Ensign

[China - Air Force Ensign] by Željko Heimer

[Ed: see update in Overview section]

There is also a flag for the Chinese air force: similar to that of the People's Liberation Army, but the lower half being air force blue.
Miles George Li, 15 June 1999

Chinese Navy Ensigns used in 1950's

Chinese Navy Jack

[Chinese Navy Jack used in 1950's]
image by Kazutaka Nishiura 17 July 2015

The jack has red field with a blue horizontal stripe in the center with white fimbriations and red five pointed star with yellow fimbriation and Chinese character 八一 = 8.1 in yellow inside which represents date of foundation of Peoples Liberation Army on Aug 1st 1927.
The imagee based on the photo of the jack.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 July 2015

Chinese Navy Lifeboat Ensign

[Chinese Navy Lifeboat Ensign used in 1950's]
image by Kazutaka Nishiura 18 July 2015

The ensign has light blue field and the naval ensign in the canton with red and white lifesaver ring in the fly used in 1950ís. The image was drawn based on the photo of the ensign.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 18 July 2015

I believe the two Chinese Navy Flags (Navy Jack and Lifeboat Ensign) are possibly spurious.
To begin with, I have seen the original photos of the flags, and these look too new to be of 1950s vintage.
Moreover, no publications of note from China have illustrated these flags - not in the Encyclopedia of China (First edition completed in 1993, with only the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army Flag and the People's Liberation Army Flag illustrated), not in the Atlas of Flags in China (2003, with the PLA Flag plus that of the three services), and not in any major Chinese military enthusiasts' website.
Finally, it was only since 1992 that stripes have been added onto the bottom of the PLA flag to denote the three services; none of which has a single dark blue stripe. This makes the 'Lifeboat Ensign' look like a fantasy variant of the several historic Soviet lifeboat ensigns.
Unfortunately my words of vexillological prudence might be too little, too late - an image of the 'Navy Jack' has already been uploaded onto Wikipedia...
Miles Li, 18 July 2015

I found the photos of these two flags from a Chinese blog:
It seems to me that in 1950s PLA Navy may have separated navy jack and rank flags. However these flag may have been abolished due to the radical political movements in 1960s. From a news website I found the following records:
(Translate: "The first naming and flag granting ceremony for battleships, were conducted at Caoxiexia (of Yangtze River) in Nanjing by East China Military Area Navy Command on April 23, 1950. Zhang Aiping, Naval Commander and Commissar of East China Military Area Navy Command, presented naming certification, army flag, naval jack, commander flag to each captain and commissar.")
Another personal blog also mentioned navy jack and rank flags of PLAN.
(Translate: "As in PLA Navy rules in April 1950, PLA army flag was the substitute for naval ensign. Commander flag and naval jack were also specified. International signal flags were used in naval communication, and six special flags were added.")
For imagery evidences, unfortunately I haven't find other historical photos for the jack. As in PLAN flag code, naval jack is only used when the ship is fully dressed. The jack is hardly to be seen in action. If anyone is interested in further research, I recommend this website for photo sources of PLAN ships.
Eric Soong, 26 July 2015

Various Chinese sources on the internet seem to contradict each other over this matter. One one hand some websites do mention the presentations of war ensigns, naval jacks and commander's flags in the 1950 ceremony. On the other hand, Baidu Baike (the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia) has one article with two different answers, one being the naval jack and commander's flag were indeed proposed but never approved, their designs are presumed lost, the other being only one flag is presented to each warship during its commissioning ceremony.
The best evidence I have managed to find is a photograph from 1958 showing the naval jacks, which were probably the same as the PLA Flag.
Miles Li, 26 July 2015

Many documents in China might be lost because of radical political movements in 1960s and 1970s. However, in light of Sino-soviet relations in 1950s, the flags probably were recorded in Russian or East European archives. May those who live in Russia or East Europa can help us to inquiry the historic documents?
Akira Oyo, 27 July 2015