The Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa
The Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa
National Treasure Intro
The Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa is one of the three major pieces in the collection of the National Taiwan Museum, and was designated as a national treasure in 2016. But this flag is not the original, rather it is a copy by a Japanese painter called Takahashi Untei during the Japanese rule of Taiwan. So where is the original now and why is the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa in the Taiwan Museum’s collection a copy?
In 1895, the Qing dynasty signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki with Japan, ceding Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan, making it the first Japanese colony. The news was shocking for officials and ordinary people in Taiwan. At that time, Tang Jingsong, the highest official and Governor of Taiwan Province, wrote to the Qing court many times, but he only received unenthusiastic responses. Therefore, Tang Jingsong believed that if he wanted to avoid Japanese rule, he should follow the example of the “Triple Intervention” of Russia, Germany and France who wanted to stop Japanese expansion by preventing some of the Treaty of Shimonoseki’s harsh terms. Therefore, on May 15 of the same year, after close talks between Qiu Fengjia, Tang Jingsong and the Taiwanese gentry, they decided to issue the “Proclamation of the People of Taiwan,” expressing their wish for “self-governance” and appealed to various countries to intervene. On May 25, the “Republic of Formosa” was established, with Tang Jingsong serving as the president. He made an official seal and three yellow tiger flags in blue, which were hung at the Keelung Fortress, the Governor’s Office, and the Tamsui Customs Office. However, Hosea Ballou Morse, the customs officer, refused to hang it in front of the Customs Office.
After Japan viciously attacked Taiwan, Tang Jingsong made a hasty escape and the Republic of Formosa lasted for only 13 days, making it just a flash in the pan.
On June 15 of the same year, Japan begun ruling Taiwan. But what happened to these three flags? According to the memoirs of Hosea Ballou Morse, the flag that he had refused to hang at the Tamsui Customs Office was taken away from Taiwan by him and its whereabouts are still unknown; the location of the flag that was hung at the Governor’s Office is also unknown; the last one that was hung at Keelung Fortress was collected by the Japanese army and presented to the Japanese royal family by Governor Kabayama Sukenori and placed in the Shintenfu at the Japanese Imperial Palace. However, with the passage of time, it is not known whether this flag is still kept there now.
In 1909, when the Museum of the Government-General of Taiwan was preparing to display captured items gained by Japan from the First Sino-Japanese War, Teruaki Miyamoto, the Chief of Staff of the Army Department of the Government-General, was dispatched to collect the war trophies. There, he stumbled across the Yellow Tiger Flag stored in the Shintenfu. The Government-General received royal permission to make a copy of the Yellow Tiger Flag, so he hired Takahashi Untei to make an exact copy of the flag. It is said that there is no difference between the original and the copy. That is why the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa in the National Taiwan Museum is a copy made by Takahashi Untei, which is the closest to the original flag and has become the most important cultural asset in Taiwan’s history.
According to historical records, the size of the original Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa is about 360cm wide and 242cm long. This shows that the flag is very large and does not differ much in size to the Yellow Tiger Flag now stored in the National Taiwan Museum. James Wheeler Davidson, an American journalist who was invited to observe the ceremony, described the flag as having “a blue background with the center decorated by a hungry-looking yellow tiger possessing a tail of greater length than is customarily allotted to a real tiger.” Hosea Ballou Morse also described the yellow tiger as “waving a long and very aggressive tail in the air.”
For Tang Jingsong, the act of establishing a republic was a last resort for the future of Taiwan, therefore, he did not dare to override the Qing court in designing an official seal and flag. Hence, he chose blue to be the color of the flag for it was the same color as the Han military troops that were the lowest in the Eight Banners system; and used the image of a tiger for it is deemed lower than a dragon, and designed the flag in the form of a square, which resembles a traditional general’s flag.
National Treasure Appreciation
The front of the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa: tiger at night
This Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa is now preserved in the National Taiwan Museum.
The flag is 330cm wide and 264cm long, and is a copy made by Takahashi Untei of the flag in the collection of the Shintenfu in the Japanese Imperial Palace, where the trophies from the victory in war were stored.
According to a news article about Shintenfu in Taiwan Daily News, the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa used to show “a yellow tiger on blue ground,” but the colors have faded because of external factors such as wars and weathering and have become brown.
For this reason, Takahashi Untei copied the flag the way it was when he saw it, using brown for the background. Nevertheless, the appearance of the yellow tiger is still clearly visible.
The Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa is made of single-layer woven cotton fabric, with a large piece missing on the lower right. On the upper right corner there is a blue patch of a different material. The missing part on the lower right is most likely part of the original flag itself.
Judging from the photo published in 1909 in the Taiwan Daily News of the flag that used to fly above the Keelung Fort, acquired by Japanese in June 1895, the original flag was already damaged.
Image source: “Governor Kabayama Sukenori’s Official Report about the Tiger Flag (size:242cm long and 360cm wide),” Taiwan Daily News, No. 3475, November 27, 1909, p. 5.
On the obverse side of the flag there is a black-striped yellow tiger striding forward, with bright round eyes and a long tail curled up slightly towards the left. Its body is slightly curved. The outline of the upper part of the tiger is painted with broad strokes ranging from the neck to the tail and the stripes are painted with thick and thin vertical strokes. The same pattern is applied on the abdomen but it has a curvier style, while the detail of the hair on the tiger's belly drawn with short brush strokes.
The left forelimb of the tiger is stepping on the ground, with an outline of thick strokes.
On the shoulder there is a swirl pattern indicating the joint. The right forelimb is bent at 90 degrees, striding forward in a vigorous way. The tiger’s pupils are round and energetic, the nose red and round like a bell. On its forehead there is a pattern resembling the Chinese character “king.” The tiger has crescent shaped ears, and above the tiger there is a fire pattern, which is a symbol of the Qing dynasty’s divine destiny; on the lower left is an auspicious yellow cloud pattern, which stands for safety and protection for the tiger’s resistance against Japanese troops. Both the cloud and the flame pattern are symbols to raise the morale of people to fight against their enemies.
The reverse side of the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa: tiger by day.
When speaking of the Yellow Tiger Flag, people usually think of a yellow tiger with round pupils, that is, the tiger at night. In 2004, when the National Taiwan Museum commissioned the National Center for Research and Preservation of Cultural Properties to analyze it, researchers found a layer of colored fabric from the reverse side that came off at the corner of flag. In 2010, repair work begun.
After a year and a half, in 2012, with the removal of multiple layers of mending paper, it was finally confirmed that there is another yellow tiger on the reverse side of the flag, and the two tigers corresponded with each other. The only difference lies in the shape of the pupils. The tiger on the reverse side has crescent-shaped pupils, showing the appearance of a tiger in the day. The vivid illustration of the two different types of tigers, one in day and one in night, not only shows the contrast of yin and yang, but it also conveys a deeper meaning that there is a powerful tiger safeguarding Taiwan at all hours of the day.
Comparison of the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa, day and night tigers.
Remaking the Yellow Tiger Flag
Lin Yu-San’s copy of the Yellow Tiger Flag
When you visit the National Taiwan Museum to see the Yellow Tiger Flag, you might find that it is different from the one with a yellow tiger on a midnight blue background. The Yellow Tiger Flag in the museum is a dusty, weathered brown one.
The image of the Yellow Tiger Flag with a blue background actually comes from the reproduction of the flag by the artist Lin Yu-San, who was commissioned in 1953 by Qiu Nian-Tai to copy it. Qiu Nian-Tai was the son of Qiu Feng-Jia, the vice president of the Republic of Formosa.
Lin Yu-San’s reproduction of the flag was made to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Republic of Formosa and was made based on Takahashi Untei’s version, with adjustments on parts missing on the previous version.
Since the Lin Yu-San edition of the flag is very complete, the image of it has gradually become the one most people associate with the Yellow Tiger Flag.
Lin Yu-San made two copies of the Yellow Tiger Flag, one is the same size as the original flag, and the other is a miniature edition. Both are in the collection of the National Taiwan Museum. This one is the original size version.
Lin Yu-San’s Copy of the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa: miniature edition
This flag is also a copy made by Lin Yu-San, but a much smaller version. It is 96cm wind and 84cm long. This miniature edition is in the collection of the National Taiwan Museum. On the hoist side of the flag there is an inscription as follows:
In the Battle of 1895, Taiwanese people rose against the aggressors to protect their homeland.
This copy of the national flag of the Republic of Formosa is dedicated to the Taiwan Provincial Museum, May 1953.
Artist: Lin Yu-San (Chiayi)
Sponsor: Li Jian-Xing (Taipei) and Lin Shu-Huan (Tainan)
Dyer: Lin Xi-Chang (Taipei)
Donator: Qiu Nian-Tai (Taichung)
Digital reconstruction of the Yellow Tiger Flag obverse side: tiger at night
In 2016, the Yellow Tiger Flag of the Republic of Formosa was designated as a national treasure, and the National Taiwan Museum made a digital reconstructed version based on the 1895 version. Based on the analysis of the blue color saturation on the flag and the yellow tiger, this flag is currently the version closest to the original Yellow Tiger Flag when it was made. This image is a digital reconstruction of the flag with a tiger at night.
Digital reconstruction of the Yellow Tiger Flag reverse side: day by tiger
This picture shows the reverse side of the digitally reconstructed flag with a tiger during the day.
- 〈新聞記者拜觀振天府／天恩洪大／聖旨優渥／振天府之由來／臺灣之民主國旗／侍武官官長之說明／臺灣之聯隊軍旗〉,Taiwan Daily News, No.2689, p. 5, April 23, 1907.
- “The Republic of Formosa Flag (modelled after the Shintenfu edition),” Taiwan Daily News, No. 3475, November 27, 1909, p.5.
- Chen Wan-P’ing, “Finding and Following the Right Conservation Path for the Yellow Tiger Flag.” National Taiwan Museum Seasonal Journal, No.116: 2012, pp. 6-19.
- Frances Lennard, Nancy Pollak, Lin Chun-Mei and Chen Wan-P’ing, “Blue Flag with Yellow Tiger? Flags, Authenticity and Identity.”National Taiwan Museum Seasonal Journal, No.116: 2012, pp. 20-33.
- Tsai Szu-Wei, “A Narrative of “Flag of Republic of Formosa in NTM.”National Taiwan Museum Seasonal Journal,No.116: 2012, pp. 40-43.
- Tsai Cheng-Hao, “Establishing a Country to Resist Japan: The Short-Lived Republic of Formosa.”ARTTouch, No.245: 2013, pp. 12-14.
- Lan Yu-Chi, “Two Tigers Guard Taiwan during the Day and Night! Discover the Secrets Behind the Republic of Formosa’s ‘Yellow Tiger Flag,’” ARTTouch, No.245: 2013, pp. 145-147.
- Chao Yu-T’ing, “Restoration of the Yellow Tiger Flag: Issues Stemming from the Determination of the Background Color of the Flag. Cultural Studies Bi-Monthly Journal, No.142: 2014, pp. 46-57.
- Hsu Pei-Hsien,“A Tool to Understand the Japanese Invasion of Taiwan: The Past and Present of the Republic of Formosa Flag.” Newsletter of Taiwan Studies, No.87: 2015, p. 15.
- Li Shu-Hui, Li Tzu-Ning and Wu Bai-Lu (editors), The Story About the Yellow Tiger Republic of Formosa Flag. Tainan: National Museum of Taiwan History, 2002.
- Li Hui-Fang and Cheng Ming-Shui, A Scientific Report on the Restoration of the Portrait of Koxinga and the Republic of Formosa Flag. Taipei: National Taiwan Museum, 2007.
- Hsu Pei-Hsien, A Report on the Investigation of the Republic of Formosa Flag, Taipei: National Taiwan Museum, 2007.
The National Taiwan Museum (NTM) is the oldest museum in Taiwan, it was formerly known as the Taiwan Governor Museum, which was established in 1908. The artefacts on display were broadly divided into history, anthropology, “south China and south seas policy,” flora and fauna, and mineralogy. Before WWII, there were nearly 10,000 pieces in the museum’s collection; after Japan was defeated in WWII, the administration of the museum was transferred to the Republic of China, and was later renamed Taiwan Provincial Museum. In 1999, due to the Taiwan Provincial Government Restructuring, the management of the museum was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, and renamed NTM.
The NTM inherits the collection of the Taiwan Governor Museum during the Japanese rule, and has accumulated over 120,000 items, including historical materials, indigenous artefacts, flora and fauna, and geological specimens of Taiwan. These items provide a window for the public to learn more about the history of Taiwan. These items have also been digitized and can be seen at “National Taiwan Museum Digital Archive Information System.”
In addition to the rich collection of artefacts related to history, culture, flora and fauna located at the main site of the NTM, the Land Bank Exhibition Hall of the NTM(Natural History Branch) also has a paleontological exhibition, the Nanmen branch of NTM presents the glory days of Taiwan’s camphor industry, and the Railway Department Park at NTM presents the history of Taiwan’s railways and the trajectory of Taiwan’s modern development.
objects can be better understood by linking them to similar objects in global collections.