If I had a kuai for every time I've been asked that
question, I'd be retired and gambling in Macao. But
as your patriotic Ayi has never been one to shirk revolutionary
duty, I am more than happy to instruct you.
No doubt you are aware that China's
national flag is a red rectangle with a large yellow
star in the left hand corner surrounded by four smaller
yellow stars. After Liberation in 1949, the Communists
came to power and they decided they needed a new emblem
more in keeping with their revolutionary image. So in
July 1949 the Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference (CPPCC) released a nationwide circular calling
for designs for a new national flag.
It had to have Chinese characteristics,
show "vigor," be rectangular and the color should be
mostly bright red, according to the flier. By August
1, the committee had received thousands of designs from
all over the country. It seemed everyone had an idea,
from factory workers to prominent literary figures.
The committee took over a month to
decide which design they felt most accurately represented
New China. After much debate, the wuxing hongqi (five-star
red flag), was chosen. The decision was made just in
time for October 1, when the flag was unfurled and hoisted
above Tiananmen Square for the first time.
The man responsible for the design
was Zhejiang native Zeng Liansong. The story goes that
Zeng spent many sleepless nights thinking, and one particular
starry night he gazed out of his window and became inspired.
As the Party was widely known as the dajiuxing (literally
'savior star') Zeng decided to place a large yellow
star in the left hand corner of the flag. He then chose
to put four smaller stars around the large one, each
representing the four classes as dictated by Chairman
Mao: workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.
Yellow was the obvious color to choose for the stars,
according to Zeng. For starters, the colors red and
yellow are traditionally regarded by Chinese as auspicious
and happy. Yellow also symbolized the children and grandchildren
of the Yellow Emperor, i.e. the yellow Chinese race.
Then the Communist Party needed a
national emblem. Many designs were created and rejected
before one was finally chosen. It consisted of a golden
Tiananmen illuminated by five stars encircled by ears
of grain and a cogwheel. All these were painted gold,
except the inner part of the circle and the hanging
ribbons which were red.
Tiananmen symbolizes the unyielding
national spirit of the Chinese people. The ears of grain
and the cogwheel represent the working proletariat and
peasantry; and the five stars stand for the great unity
of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Party.
On September 20, 1950, Mao ordered the public release
of the emblem and on May 1, 1951 a mammoth International
Labor Day Parade was held in Tiananmen. The enormous
metal emblem was officially hung on the rostrum where
it remains to this day.
Finally, the tune that is heard accompanying
all Mao lighters is not the national anthem, but is
in fact a catchy ditty called The East is Red, which
was a popular paean to the Great Helmsman. The official
anthem is actually a song born in 1935 as the theme
to the film Young Heroes and Heroines in Stormy Years
called March of the Volunteers (Yiyongjun jinxingqŸ).
The film depicts the young volunteers who went to the
front to defend China against the Japanese invaders
in the 1930s.
Popular for its highly emotional
melody arousing a sense of patriotic spirit among China's
people, March of the Volunteers contains such inspiring
lyrics as "The peoples of China are in the most critical
time, 10,000 voices must shout as one: Arise! Arise!
Arise!" For this reason the Party decided to adopt it
as the national anthem of the People's Republic.
It also continues to be an effective
way of rousing people out of bed every morning. Invariably
blasted out of loudspeakers at six in the morning in
local schools and factories, it is enough to wake anyone
within a several-mile radius.
So starstruck, now you are familiar
with the Holy Trinity of PRC emblems and anthems. Spread
the gospel to your laowai friends, and in the motivational
words of the national anthem: "Rise up, throw off your
chains - Defy the enemy's artillery. March forward!