Raise high the flag, whatever it stands for

Asian Harmony

This is a Japan/Manchukuo propaganda poster showing the harmony between the Chinese, Japanese, and Manchurians. I found it on the Hoover website and am using on my East Asian History syllabus for the Spring. (You need a nice Pan-Asian image for that.) I like the image because it is kids, which neatly sidesteps the question of why the Chinese and the Manchurian have abandoned their native loyalties. It’s also hard to envision trying a 6-year old as a war criminal.

The thing that struck me is that Chinese (the one on the right) is holding the old 5-Color flag. This was declared the flag of the Republic after the 1911 revolution. Sun Yat-sen was never happy about this, since he preferred the Shining Sun flag (the current flag of the R.O.C. on Taiwan.) He was turned down on the grounds that Shining Sun was too closely tied to his party and gave the impression that the Republic was a party-state (which is of course why Sun liked it.) In 1921 Sun’s Guangzhou government declared the Shining Sun flag the official flag of the Republic, and after the Northern Expedition this was accepted by everyone.1

Or was it? The Japanese apparently did not. Did they never accept the Shining Sun flag as the symbol of China? Or did they drop this recognition after 1931 or something? Or was the 5-Color flag just a symbol of the Chinese race to them, and they still recognized the Shining Sun as the symbol of the Nanjing state? The imagery is actually sort of odd, since the 5 colors in the Five Color flag were originally held to represent the 5 nationalities of China (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui.) Not many Tibetans in Manchukuo, so were the colors in the Manchukuo flag supposed to stand for something other than ethnicity? This site suggests that the four colors on the Manchuguo flag stood for red (bravery), blue (justice), white (purity) and black (determination), but it gives no references.

1Above from Harrison The Making of the Republican Citizen


  1. Interesting note on the flags. Do let everyone know what you find out if you research the topic more.

    The first thing I noticed about the poster was the prominence of the Japanese boy leading the way for the Chinese, but particularly his western clothing. Also, the clear attempt to make all three facially alike is interesting. Obviously this is a good example of the Pan-Asian movement.

    Is the building in the background a gate from Beijing? Or is it more generic than that? What purpose does it serve (cultural or otherwise)?

  2. I guess we would need to date the poster to make a better guess about the flag. Maybe the flag to the right is one of the early puppet Chinese regime flags? Wang Jingwei’s pro-Japanese nationalist government used a careful variation of the shining star flag, I believe (There was a fight with Japan on exactly this issue, if I remember correctly), and I can clearly make this out in my books depicting their forces in the early 40s.

    As for the meaning of the bars in the manchurian flag, I strongly suspect it is from their “five race” theme – the harmony of races in Manzhouguo was a huge point for them. I think they are mongolians, manchus, han, japanese, and koreans.

  3. The current ROC flag isn’t quite the same as the original shining star KMT flag. The original flag is just white on blue design in the upper-left corner, with the rest of a flag a field of red, supposedly to represent the blood spilled in the revolution.

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