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F e a t u r e

The Worker Who Forged the Red Flag

by Mark Kong

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Zeng Liansong was born in the city of Ruian of Zhejiang. In his school days, he took an active part in the anti-imperialism movement.

In the spring of 1949, Zeng Liansong worked in Shanghai in a secret economic news office led by the underground Communist Party.

He celebrated Shanghai's liberation in May. In July 15, he read the notice in People's Daily that the new Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was collecting the design for the new China national flag.

He was very excited after reading the notice. He read it and read it again, and could not fall asleep for the ensuing several nights. He decided to give it a try.

"I'm not an artist," says Zeng. "And I had never done any design work before. I think the reason that I dared to design the flag was the joy from depth of my heart and patriotic enthusiasm."

July 1949 was hot, the hottest month of the year.

Zeng worked night after night in his small room after work. He produced many drafts, but none satisfied him. One night, Zeng was sitting in front of the window and thinking about the design of the national flag.

He gazed at the summer night sky, in those days so clear. The Chinese phrase pan xingxing pan yueliang  "longing for the stars, longing for the moon" came to mind, an expression of supreme yearning.

He thought, "the Communist party is the dajiuxing (savior, literally savior star) of the Chinese people"

Then he had his big idea:

"Why not have a big star with a Communist hammer and sickle, and several smaller stars symbolizing the Chinese people united around the Communist Party?" he thought.

Then he began to think through the details.

How many small stars should there be?

In On the People's Democratic Dictatorship, Mao Zedong wrote that the "people" included workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie. Thus, he chose four.

The color should be yellow, bright against the revolutionary red backdrop. Yellow, he says, also implied New China belongs to the Chinese people, a "yellow race".

Positioning proved a problem. First, he tried dead center. But it looked dull and heavy. Last of all, he tried the upper left corner. Suddenly, the flag looked quite different.

The whole idea seemed to fall into place. He drew it out again and mailed it in mid August.

The first session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, September 27, formally approved the design.

Newspapers all over China published the design. Zeng was very excited and happy about the similarity, but he did not dare believe it was his own: The final design had no hammer and sickle.

Then Zeng received a letter from the General Office of the People's Government: "Mr Zeng Liansong, your design of the national flag has already been adopted. We will give you a CPPCC album and 5 million yuan (500 new yuan), to thank you for your contribution to our country."

He read the letter over and over and his eyes filled with tears. In the next year's national day celebration, Zeng was invited to come to Beijing to see the parade on Tiananmen Rostrum. Zeng was also invited to the 30th anniversary celebration.

After his brush with fame, Zeng continued to work in the Shanghai Waste Recycling Company and native products company.

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The winning design 32.

Raising the Red Banner

July 4, 1949

The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) decides a notice should be released throughout China to collect designs for a new national flag.

Guo Moruo, Shen Yanbing and Zheng Zhenduo draft a 200-word notice and send it to Zhou Enlai.

Zhou receives draft at 3 am, edits, making 14 corrections. The most important change: Zhou changes the predominant color from deep red to bright red.

July 15-26, 1949

The notice is published in People's Daily, Beiping Liberation News, Xinmin News, Guangming Daily and Tianjin Daily.

The requirements of the flag are:

August 1

The committee receives 2,992 designs. People from all walks of life take part: Even Zhu De, Guo Moruo and Ai Qing send in designs.

August 15

A flag selection team starts going through all the designs in a room at the Beijing Hotel. They pick 38 and compile them into a reference album on the order of Zhou Enlai.

For each flag, a brief explanation is attached without naming designer. The album is sent to the CPPCC for discussion.

Most representatives favor No. 32 design, but don't agree to the designer's idea of four stars representing four classes.

Many like the design of a big star with a thick yellow line, including Mao Zedong. But others argue the yellow line seems inappropriate as it infers a divide, splitting the country.

September 23

In the evening, Zhou Enlai asks about the results of the conference. When he hears most people prefer design 32, he immediately orders a bigger copy of the design and a big flag.

September 25

At Mao's office, 18 representatives hold another meeting to discuss the flag. Only about a quarter disagree with design 32.

Thus everyone agrees there will be no problem passing design 32 in the afternoon session of the CPPCC.

"But this is not perfect, we have to make everyone happy with it," says Mao.

He then takes out the flag and says, "Most people said this design is good. I agree. The revolution was successful under the leadership of Communist Party and united all classes. I think this design reflects the reality of the Chinese revolution."

All people present agree with Mao. Some representatives suggest removing the Soviet hammer and sickle. This is also agreed.

September 27

At the CPPCC meeting representatives unanimously approve the wu xing hong qi -- five star red flag -- as the new national design.

September 28

The flag design is published in the media for other local authorities to copy.

Seamstress Zhao Wenrei is assigned the task of sewing the first flag for the national day ceremonies in Beijing.

September 30

1 pm. Zhao finishes the first flag.

October 1

The new flag is unfurled and hoisted at Tiananmen for the first time.

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Design 15, by Zhu De.
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Design 33, by Chen Duo.
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Design 8, by Guo Moruo.
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Design 17, by Xiu shuhua.
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Design 19, by Wu Yuzhang
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Design 22, by Pang Xunqin