A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL FLAGS OF VIETNAM

Phạm Văn Thanh
Translated by Nguyễn Quang Hiển

I.       THE CONCEPT OF NATIONAL FLAGS

Prior to the French Revolution in 1789, the form of government of most countries in the world was parliamentary or monarchical, where the King or Queen and their relatives ruled the country and possessed most of the national properties. After the revolution, in 1793, the French Parliament selected three colors to symbolize their national flag. The color blue represents "freedom," the white stands for "equality," and the red is for "fraternity." The connotations of the three colors of the French national flag are complementary to common popular human goals. Due to this reason other free and democratic nations, including the United States; have adopted red, white, and blue as the fundamental colors for their national flags.

II.       THE HISTORY OF VIETNAM'S NATIONAL FLAGS

Since the monarchial time thousands of years ago, the Vietnamese have utilized flags to symbolize a dynasty. Flags were also used to represent the rank of a person, such that of a king or a general. For example, the flag of the king usually had a dragon embroidered in the center. Similarly, the flag of the general usually had one of the colors of the Five Elements that he was born under, according to his birth hour and date. The colors of the Five Elements are: white for Metal, blue for Wood, black for Water, red for Fire, and yellow for Earth. Every dynasty also selected a flag with a distinct shape and colors harmonized according to the Yin-Yang philosophy as a symbol for the great accomplishments of that dynasty. For instance, the Ly Dynasty chose the Five Element flag with the character Ly at the center; the Nguyen Dynasty picked the royal yellow for the color of its flag. The flags of kings or the flags of dynasties, nevertheless, only represented the kings and were raised exclusively at the royal palace or places where they were visiting. Unlike the French national flag, these flags did not stand for the entire country consisting of the government, the land, and its people.


Ly Dynasty Flag

        1. The Dragon Spirit (Long Tinh) Flag
        After World War II, the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, issued the first Vietnamese national flag called "Long Tinh" (Dragon Spirit). This flag had a yellow background with a horizontal red stripe in the center, which had a width of one third of the flag. The Long Tinh flag was raised in the North and the Center of Vietnam, which were both governed by the Hue Monarchy. Whereas, at that time, the French colonized the South of Vietnam and used the three-color flag of their motherland.


Dragon Spirit (Long Tinh) Flag


The Dragon Spirit (Long Tinh) Flag was issued on March 11, 1945 (1)

        2. The Li Trigram (Quẻ Ly) Flag
        On March 9, 1945, Japan took over Southeast Asia from France. Two days later, Emperor Bao Dai declared the independence of Vietnam and delegated Scholar Tran Trong Kim to establish the Parliament on April 17. The Tran Trong Kim Parliament selected a yellow flag with the trigram "Li" of the Pa Kua Octagon in the middle as the national flag for the country of Vietnam on June 2. (The Li trigram associates with the South and the element of fire. It consists of three lines: two continuous lines are at the top and bottom; the centerline has a gap in the middle). Japan, however, did not return the South of Vietnam to the Hue Monarchy until August 14, 1945, which was four days before they surrendered to the Allies and ten days before Emperor Bao Dai resigned. Therefore, the Que Li flag had never been raised in the South.


Li Trigram (Quẻ Ly) Flag

        3. The Qian Trigram (Quẻ Càn) Flag
        After World War II, the Chinese troops entered the North Vietnam to disarm Japanese Army stationing there. Chinese General Lu Han, supported the coalition of Vietnamese nationalist political parties for signing a peaceful preliminary treaty with the Vietnamese Communist Party on March 6, 1946; in which, a Coalition Government had been established. However, the Vietnamese nationalist leaders such as Nguyen Hai Than and Nguyen Tuong Tam neither agreed with the conditions of the treaty nor felt safe under the attack from the Vietnamese Communists, they had to flee the country for China. On February 17, 1947, several exiled nationalist political parties met in HongKong and combined their forces into a united party called "The Nationalist Front", and invited the former Emperor Bao Dai to be their leader. On June 5, 1948, Emperor Bao Dai, while in exile, signed the Gulf of Ha-Long Treaty with France to declare the independence of Vietnam. Bao Dai ordered to connect the gap of the centerline of the Li trigram of the Que Ly flag to change to the Qian trigram (the first trigram of the Pa Kua Octagon). The Qian trigram is a symbol for the power of Heaven, Emperor, and for the Vietnamese people. On principle, the Que Can flag, thereafter, became the national flag of the independent nation of Vietnam.


Qian Trigram (Quẻ Càn) Flag

        4. The Yellow Flag with Three Red Stripes
        Because an agreement could not be reached with the Vietnamese Communists, the French agreed to sign the Ha Long Bay Treaty on June 5, 1948 with Emperor Bao Dai, which officially returned the independence to Vietnam. Emperor Bao Dai selected the yellow flag with three red stripes, by Artist Le Van De, as the national flag for Vietnam in Hong Kong, and assigned Major General Nguyen Van Xuan to form the national interim government on June 1, 1948 in Saigon. This flag is similar to the Que Can flag except it has three continuous red stripes instead of one long red Qian trigram across the flag. The next day, the Interim Government of Premier Nguyen Van Xuan signed a resolution to recognize and honor the yellow flag with three red stripes as the official Vietnamese national flag and the song "The Call On The Youth" of Luu Huu Phuoc as the national anthem for the free and independent Vietnam from that time until the country was divided into the North and the South in 1954. The yellow flag with three red stripes was preserved as the national flag of the Republic of South Vietnam until the North Vietnamese communists took over South Vietnam on April 30, 1975. There were almost three million Vietnamese, who have rejected the communist regime, who have fled the country and since have settled in many other countries abroad. To those freedom loving Vietnamese people, the yellow flag with three red stripes is still considered to be their flag.


The national flag of the independent and free Vietnam was selected by Emperor Bảo Đại in 1948


Emperor Bảo Đại selected the Three Red Stripes in the Middle of the Yellow Flag
as the official Vietnamese national flag on June 5, 1948 (2)


After Emperor Bảo Đại signed the Ha Long Bay Treaty with French on June 5, 1948,
the Three Red Stripes in the Middle of the Yellow Flag was selected as the official Vietnamese national flag (3)
(Note: On the map, the National Flag of Vietnam was raised in the entire nation from North to South)

III.       THE EXPRESSIONS OF THE NATIONAL YELLOW FLAG WITH THREE RED STRIPES

        1. Expression of Colors
        The colors of yellow and red of the national flag not only represents the skin and the blood of the Vietnamese, but also their concepts about the ecology of human beings and the universe. Described briefly, yellow symbolizes the Element of Earth and is also the center of the Five Elements. Thus, yellow stands for the land and its proprietary rights. Red represents the Fire Element and is located in the South of the Pa Kua Octagon. Therefore, the colors of the flag specifically imply that Vietnam is an independent country south of China.

        2. Political Expression
        The yellow flag with three red stripes represents a whole nation with three regions: North, Center, and South. This means Vietnam is a republic united in both land and government. This country will not be divided as it was during the Trinh-Nguyen Civil War or when occupied by a foreign country, like France, who colonized the South and turned it into a separate country from the North and the Center.

        3. Philosophical Expression
        The yellow flag with three red stripes was designed according to the concept of the universal ecology, i.e., "Heaven is above, Earth is below, and Man is in between." In the Five Elements, Yellow is Earth and red is Fire. When they change or interact in harmony according to the Yin-Yang philosophy, they will create each other. Therefore, using yellow and red in the national flag, the Vietnamese emphasized to China that "Vietnam is an independent nation in the south with land and sole proprietary ownership." The poem composed by Marshal Ly Thuong Kiet when he rallied his troops to defeat the Chinese Sung's army (4), and the "Great Proclamation Upon the Pacification of the Wu" by Nguyen Trai (5) implied this expression.

IV.       CONCLUSION

         The yellow flag with three red stripes has been the official national flag of Vietnam prior to the division in 1954. For that reason, this flag is still the central symbol for the honorable Vietnamese nationalists. The yellow national flag with three red stripes stands for the soul of the Vietnamese and their independent spirit since its creation until now. A great number of our ancestors, heroes, and soldiers had sacrificed and shed their blood and for the establishment and protection of Vietnam, regardless of the political regime of republic or communist, ethnicity of Kinh or Thuong, differences in religion, sex, or age. For this reason, the Vietnamese nationalists have the responsibilities to protect and to advocate for the righteous nationalism symbolized by the yellow flag with three red stripes, which is the flag for freedom, equality, and fraternity of the Vietnamese traditions.

 

  NOTES
(1), (2) (3) Éric Deroo & Pierre Vallaud, "Indochine Francaise 1856- 1956 Guerres, Mythes et Passions" Perrin, Paris, France, 2003.

(4) "The Southern Emperor is to reside in the Southern land
        This has been clearly marked in the Book of Heaven
        If unruly troops from afar dare to encroach
        They will certainly face annihilation."
        (by Marshall Ly Thuong Kiet)

        Foot Note: This poem is considered the first Declaration of Independence of Vietnam

(5) "Our state of Great Vietnam is indeed a country wherein culture and institutions have flourished since thousands of years ago.
        Our mountains and rivers have their characteristic features as our habits and customs are different from north to south.
        Although we have been at times strong and at times weak, we have at no time lacked heroes..."

        (by Nguyen Trai)

        Foot Note: The "Great Proclamation" poem provides a deep sense of Vietnam's spirit of independence. It is considered the second Declaration of Independence of Vietnam.

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