National flags are a strong symbol of statehood and national pride. Each is uniquely designed to represent a country’s identity, with colors and emblems purposefully chosen that embody the history and common values shared by its people.
People familiar with Taiwan and the Republic of China’s (ROC) history must also be acquainted with the design of the ROC national flag: a red background with a navy blue canton bearing a white sun beaming with 12 rays. “Blue Sky, White Sun and a Wholly Crimson Earth (青天,白日,滿地紅)” is how Taiwanese commonly refer to it.
It was therefore a shock to many to see a bizarre-looking flag hanging on the side of the Presidential Office auditorium during President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) swearing-in ceremony on Sunday.
The flag featured a blue background in the upper half and red background in the bottom half with a giant white sun in the center. With the color blue in Taiwan generally associated with the pan-blue camp and the color red associated with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) China — the combination of colors led some to interpret the flag as symbolic of “Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT]-CCP cooperation.” Others, reminded of the “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” idea touted by Ma, questioned whether the banner was meant to represent the “Taiwan area.”
Quick to dismiss the complaints, the Presidential Office said the flag was merely an innovation, with a Ministry of the Interior official saying that apart from the front of the auditorium, where the national flag was displayed, the items hanging on the side walls were just decorations. Meanwhile, some KMT lawmakers said people should lighten up and not attach any unnecessary political connotations to the decorations.
Flabbergasting would be a major understatement in describing the Presidential Office’s explanation. It is simply inconceivable that the highest representation of the nation’s statehood would take such a cavalier attitude to something as momentous as the inauguration of the head of state.
Innovation is a popular catchword today in Taiwan. However, there is also a proper place and time to display the products of innovation and one must consider whether the execution conforms to the level of solemnity called for by a given occasion. For a ceremony as important as a presidential inauguration, one to which many foreign dignitaries are invited to witness the assertion of a nation’s statehood — not to mention the millions at home and abroad in front of the TV or computer screens watching broadcasts of the ceremony — solemnity is key, as is reverence to the manifestations of sovereignty. The ceremony must be respectful of the legal authorities bestowed upon Ma as the ROC’s 13th president.
Article 6 of the Constitution states that: “The national flag of the Republic of China shall be of red ground with a blue sky and a white sun in the upper left corner.” The National Emblem Act (中華民國國徽國旗法) governs the display of the ROC national flag.
Ma has repeatedly trumpeted himself as the defender of the Constitution and lectured officials to “proceed in all things in accordance with the law,” and yet at such a crucial moment he deliberately flaunted a bizarre mish-mash of a banner for the world to see.
The flap over the strange banner has served as a reminder that the KMT has long seen the national flag as a representative of its control of the nation. After all, the navy blue canton with the 12-rayed sun is the flag of the KMT, which is why pro-Taiwan groups and others have long advocated a new national flag.