When members of Taiwan’s elite declared independence as a move to halt Japan’s takeover of the country towards the end of the 19th century, one of the first things they designed was a flag to reinforce their determination to be free from imperial rule. A replica of the original flag, known as the Yellow Tiger Flag (黃虎旗) of the Republic of Formosa (台灣民主國), is currently on display at the National Taiwan Museum.
The museum’s curators said that the Yellow Tiger Flag embodied the aspirations of the pro-independence forces in Taiwan, which was ceded to Japan in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki following China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War.
Despite high hopes and fierce resistance, however, these anti-Japanese fighters only held out for five months before being overwhelmed by Japanese forces. The flag, having been captured, was immediately sent to Japan.
The National Taiwan Museum, which holds a replica of the original flag painted in 1909 by Japanese artist Untei Takahashi, recently discovered documents that yield a greater understanding about the thinking that went into the design of original flag, the whereabouts of which remain unknown.
“We organized the exhibition so as to share our findings following extensive restoration, which took 15 months to finish,” Li Tzu-ning (李子寧), an associate curator at the museum, told Taipei Times in an e-mail interview.
The museum’s staff found that the tiger drawn on the back of the flag is different from the tiger drawn on the front. Though the overall features of the two felines look the same, there are minor variations.
“The pupils of the tiger on the front are round and open, while the ones at the back are crescent-shaped. This shows that the pupils dilate and contrast in response to the amount of light in the day and at night,” said Wu Pai-lu (吳百祿), a researcher who took part in the repair project.
“The two tigers, one posing for the day and the other for the night, create an image that is both symmetrical and complementary. It coincides with the belief that the flag will protect the nation day and night (日夜護國),” he said.
Though Takahashi’s work is only a facsimile, Wu says it’s “crucially important” because the original flag — or three flags according to some historical documents — is nowhere to be found.
Of the four existing duplicates in Taiwan, the Takahashi version is the only one that was commissioned and approved by the then-Japanese authorities. In 1953, Chiu Nien-tai (丘念台) — the son of Chiu Feng-jia (丘逢甲), the man who led the resistance against Japan’s occupation — commissioned respected artist Lin Yu-shan (林玉山) to create two paintings based on Takahashi’s flag. Lin produced another color ink version of the flag in 1974.
Although it continues to serve as a symbol of Taiwan’s autonomy, Lee said that today’s independence activists are disinclined to use the flag because of its complex associations with the past.
“The main reason is because the Republic of Formosa was so short-lived,” he said. “And, declaring independence was a diplomatic strategy” to return Taiwan to China.