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Tibetan flag variants

Last modified: 2020-07-11 by ian macdonald
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[Tibetan flag] image by Corentin Chamboredon, 18 April 2017

A Flickr account dedicated to the Tibetan flag has gathered several old photographs. I had never seen several of them, and for once, the sources are quoted:

There is a photograph with a strange flag. It shows soldiers holding two Tibetan flags. One of them is the regimental flag of the Khadang regiment, as the letter and number on it indicate. The other one is basically the same flag, but the symbols that appear on the white mountain are missing: no snow lions, no flaming jewels, no wish-fulfilling gem, no script. Maybe its colors had waned, and the symbols had also just faded.
The caption reads : "Tibetan army near Lhasa with the Tibetan National Flag. Photo taken by A.T. "Arch" Steele in 1944. Credit: A.T. Steele Papers, Special Collections, Arizona State University Libraries"

The other photographs I knew generally showed two flags, only one of them being partially visible. One photograph show us both flags, and we can see both have the usual symbols. I'm not sure of which regiment they belonged to, but they look like the flag used by general Derge Se, which I think was Tadang regiment's officer:
The caption reads : "The Dalai Lama's regiment marches with the Tibetan national flag. The Potala palace can be seen in the Background. Photo by Heinrich Harrer, 1949"

Other photographs, the first one showing the flag of Khadang regiment:
The caption reads "Photo of the Tibetan Army in Lhasa in 1958. Taken by Chinese government photographer Chen Zonglie."

On this one, we don't see symbols on the left flag, but it isn't unfurled so we can't be sure:
The caption reads "Photo the Tibetan army with the Tibetan national flag from Lowell Thomas' book "Out of this World." "
Corentin Chamboredon, 4 April 2017

I have wondered before if Tibetan military flags couldn't have been two-sided or double-sided since several photographs show letters and numbers in reading direction (from left to right in Tibetan), despite them being on the reverse side of the flag (that is to say, with the hoist on the right). It could also simply be that Tibetan flags were supposed to be displayed with the hoist on the right. It would be quite surprising since people tend to match the direction of their flag with the direction of their writing, but who knows...

We do have examples of flags displayed leftwards (seven on this flickr account) of rightwards (four), but I had never seen any one with a blank mountain. Maybe it was just an unfinished flag ?
Corentin Chamboredon, 4 April 2017

Thanks to Tibetanflag's flickr, I discovered new things in footage of a color film made by Lowell Thomas in Tibet in 1949 (see

First, from 1:51 to 2:04, we wan see the flag with a blank mountain I had reported. And the mountain is indeed deprived of its usual lions and other symbols. Also, as the flag I had reported for the Khadang Regiment, it has three borders of different colors: yellow at the upper border, red at the hoist border, blue at the lower border. What is great is that I now know that this flag has twelve stripes with three of them being yellow. Which makes, clockwise from the lower hoist: blue, yellow, red, blue, red, yellow, red, blue, red, blue, yellow, red.

There is another particularity to this flag : the sun in the center emits no rays. There are twelve color stripes, but no rays seems to come out on them.

Second, from 2:04 to 2:10 we can see the regular regimental flag of Khadang regiment. As Tibetanflag stresses, it looks like this flag is made of brocade. It also has three borders of different colors, but they are not exactly the same as those we can see on the film by Ilyia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan in 1943 nor on the "blank mountain" one above. Here the lower border is still blue, but the upper border seems to be of a different shade of yellow (maybe golden ?) than the stripes of the field, and the hoist border seems to have yet another shade of yellow with blue or green ornamentations (maybe text as on the flag of the Gadang Regiment?) here and there. The two squares and lozenge are yellow, of the same shade of the stripes. (see note)

Then, between 1:05 and 1:17, we can see a flag flown above a gate, east of the Potala. From the various maps of the city I have checked and how close the palace seems to be, I think this flag was flown on the eastern gate of the Shöl area. Shöl was the administrative village at the foot of the palace, a compound which included the Army headquarters (or Magchigang in Tibetan).

[Tibetan flag] image by Corentin Chamboredon, 18 April 2017

This flag is square, with a red field. In the middle, there is a yellow double-vajra and a white "cha" letter (ཆ) underneath. The flag has a yellow border on three sides with two purple squares on top and bottom and a lozenge in the middle. It looks very similar to a flag shown on a black and white photograph (see the link below). It also has some similarity with a flag reported at Tibetan Army (second flag, linked here) from a 1945 film by James Guthrie. But the differences are also very clear: the flag filmed by Thomas has a different shape and color, and displays an additional letter, a border with squares and a lozenge. In contrast, the flag filmed by Guthrie is clearly rectangular and orange, without letters (as far as I can see).

There is a four years gap between these two films, a period which saw massive political changes in Tibet. So I don't know if this simply shows two different versions of the same flag, or if they were two different flags used in the same time. The "cha" letter is somehow intriguing since it would indicate that this flag belonged to the Chadang regiment which was transformed from an artillery regiment to a police regiment in 1948. But the Chadang regiment was, if I'm correct, based in the Jokhang complex in the very center of Lhasa, a place which doesn't match with the surroundings shown of the film.

Sources :

Corentin Chamboredon, 18 April 2018

Note: this flag has few a differences from the flags I made for the Khadang Regiment: the few color images I could find of this regimental flag showed it with two yellow stripes. See the documentary The lost world of Tibet at 19:33, or Tolstoy's film from 14:12 to 14:45).
Another difference is that in The lost world of Tibet, the flag has a blue stripe on its lower fly, while this blank flag has a red stripe instead (as in Tolstoy's film).
Corentin Chamboredon, 18 April 2018