Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Tuesday, 3rd November 2015

How Vietnam got its flag

Any country's flag has a long and historical story to which it attributes itself, and Vietnam's flag is no exception, with a story and meaning that is as colourful as its appearance.

The flag itself depicts a five-pointed gold star on a bright red background, with much symbolism attributed to its colours.

Background and history of the flag

The history of this flag, depicts Vietnam's struggle under another country's rule and its subsequent successful quest for independence.

Yellow was the imperial colour of the Ch'ing dynasty in China, and yellow banners have long been used in recent centuries of imperial rule in Vietnam.

Red was a symbol of the south of the country and was often used in Vietnamese flags. Throughout history you will see it remains a constant colour through the flag's iterations.

For a long time in the 18th century, Vietnam was controlled under French colonial rule until after 1945 when World War II ended.

After the war, Vietnam declared its own rule and adopted the flag with the red background and yellow star that we recognise today.

For a while and led by the Viet Cong, the south of the country had a slightly different flag, which depicted a star on a background of horizontal red and blue stripes.

However in 1976, when the country united, the south let go of its striped flag and both it and the north continue to take the red and gold image as their flag.

The designer

It's said that the designer of the flag was Nguyen Huu Tien, a leader in the uprising against the French rule, who was from the northern part of Vietnam.

Tien was arrested before the - failed - uprising took place and was later executed by the French in 1941.

He wrote a poem explaining the significance of each of the flag's features, however there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Tien is definitely the designer of the flag as we know it.

It has also been said that Le Quang So designed the flag, who was a native of My Tho Province in the Mekong Delta.

This suggestion came in 2005 from Le Minh Duc, an official of the Tien Giang province, who discovered writings about the design of the flag in So's memoir from 1968.

Significance of the flag's colours

The reason for the colours of the flag are also inconclusive, but there are a couple of explanations for their use that seem as likely as each other.

Red was the symbol of the south, and Tien wrote a poem describing the colours of the flag, that states the colour was used to depict revolution and blood. 

Other suggestions for the use of red as the background colour include symbols of hardiness, bravery, valour and strength.

As alluded to earlier, yellow had long been associated as the colour of the emperor in Vietnam, however, Tien's poem suggests that it is meant to represent the colour of his people's skin.

Another idea is that the yellow means generosity, which sits well alongside the imagery of imperial rule.

One area that most agree on however, refers to the significance of the points on the star in the middle of the flag.

They represent the five main classes in Vietnam's society: the proletariat (or industry workers), intellectuals, businessmen, farmers and the militia.