Our flag: Did you know?

In Uncategorized on 04/08/2013 at 10:08 am

It’s that time of the year, when netizens flood the Internet with stories of S’poreans not flying the flag, or PAP grassroot leaders paying FTs to put up flags; and moan that the PAP has appropriated the flag*. This behaviour has become a ritual for late July, early August, mirroring the arrival of the flags.

So I tot I’d blog on some things about the flag that I believe are not well known.

I’m sure readers know the “official” meanings of the crescent and the stars on our flag. Google it up if you can’t remember.

But did you know how they got on the flag in the first place?

Well, when the British were designing the flag for S’pore, the Malay community leaders wanted on the flag a crescent moon, while the Chinese community leaders wanted five stars*.

The symbolism of the crescent is obvious: the crescent is a symbol of Islam, and being Muslim is part of the Malay identity.

I wondered about the significance of the five stars in Chinese culture that made the Chinese community leaders want them on the flag. I asked a scholar who studied in Catholic High in the days when it was a Chinese-language school. He could only think that the PRC flag has five stars. (Actually, I had always tot that the big star in the flag was supposed to symbolise the sun. Communists are “scientific” unlike the KMT: KMT flag has a “sun”, sort of.)

He also sent me the following: Zeng Liansong … wanted to create a flag design to express his patriotic enthusiasm for the new country … he sat down in his attic for multiple nights to come up with designs. His inspiration for the current design comes from the stars shining in the night sky. He thought of a Chinese proverb “longing for the stars, longing for the moon,” (盼星星盼月亮, Pàn xīngxīng pàn yuèliàng) which shows yearning. Later, he realized that the CPC was the great savior (大救星, Dà jiùxīng) of the Chinese people, being represented by a larger star. The idea of four small stars came from an article “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” written by Mao Zedong, which defined the Chinese people as consisting of four social classes. Yellow also implies that China belongs to the Chinese people, a “yellow race”.[5] After working out the details of the placement of the stars and their sizes (he had tried to put all of the stars in the center, but believed it would be too heavy and dull), he sent his “Five Stars on a Field of Red” (紅地五星旗, Hóng dì wǔxīng qí) design to the committee in the middle of August.[1][5]

Coming back to our flag, the British decided to keep the Malay and Chinese community leaders happy and adopted both proposals and came up with the official meanings to explain the combination.

Cunning buggers the Brits. And no, the British didn’t have red and white to placate the Indonesians, who as usual were trying to create trouble. These colours are common in many national flags because of the symbolism of red (blood, brotherhood etc) and white (purity, non-corruptibility,  truth etc).

I’m waiting for an ultra sensitive Indian (a Ravi perhaps?) to complain that I didn’t write about what the Indians wanted. The book doesn’t tell. Anyway, like today, in colonial times, the community punched above its weight in public service, politics (both PAP and opposition especially in the ranks of ministers , MPs and clowns), kay pohing (esp on human rights issues), commerce, media and the law, so why so sensitive leh? BTW today add rumour mongering blogging to the list of things Indians do well disproportionate to their numbers. They do it so well that P Ravi ( Politician, Recriminations, Accusations, Vilifications & Insinuations) and the yet to start publishing, almost all Indian Independent have been “marked” by Yaacob the internet sheriff and his sidekick, the MDA.

*Given that the PAP has been in power (via the ballot box) since S’pore became self-governing, one could reasonably and credibility argue that their arrogance can be justified, just.

**Singapore Correspondent. Political Dispatches from Singapore (1958-1962)

by Leon Comber*

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish International Asia

Singapore Correspondent” covers five years of Singapore’s colourful political past – a period of living turbulently and sometimes dangerously. It is a collection of eye-witness dispatches, sent from Singapore to London, spanning a time when Singapore was emerging from British colonial rule and moving forward to self-government and independence. Many of the early struggles of the People’s Action Party (PAP) are described as the focus is on the political struggle taking place in which the PAP played a major part. Many important events which have long been forgotten are brought to life. These dispatches prove that political history need not be dull, and indeed can sometimes be entertaining and lively.

* MAI Adjunct Research Fellow
  1. […] I’m waiting for an ultra sensitive Indian (a Ravi perhaps?) to complain that I didn’t write about what the Indians wanted. The book doesn’t tell. Anyway, like today, in colonial times, the community…See all stories on this topic […]

  2. […] Does Loving Your Own Country has to be that Complicated? – Thoughts of a Cynical Investor : Our flag: Did you know? – With Kids, We Go: National Day Rehearsal – Memories Archipelago: Looking forward- […]

  3. yes. I heard similar tale that our Singapore flag is based on the Chinese flag.

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