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The Chinese National Flag, Emblem and Anthem

At the ceremony marking the birth of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, our national flag and emblem made their first appearances and we sang our national anthem for the first time. Before the ceremony, a committee was set up to solicit designs for the flag and the emblem. Almost 3000 different designs for the flag and about one thousand for the emblem were submitted. In the end, the committee selected the flag design created by Zeng Liangsong who wasn't even an artist by trade. He was actually the secretary of the Shanghai Modern Economics Agency.

In Mr. Zeng's design, five gold stars rest in the upper left corner of the flag on a red background. The red color stands for the revolution while the gold color of the stars signifies the dawn of a new era over the land. The five stars grouped together symbolize the unity of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong raised the new flag over Tian'anmen Square. At three o'clock in the afternoon, with 300,000 people watching, Mao Zedong pressed the button on the flag pole, and the red flag with its five stars ascended over Beijing for the first time. After that first momentous flag-raising ceremony, the job was handed over to two workers from the History Museum. The two would come out in the morning, hoist the flag and then take it down in the evening. In the 1960s some discussion started about how to give the flag more of the attention it deserved. In 1969, soldiers with the Beijing garrison took over the task of raising the flag, and after a few years the honor was passed on to a squad of armed police.

On December 28, 1982, some new twists were added to the ceremony. On that morning, 96 honor guards raised the flag in two minutes and seven seconds. That is the same amount of time it takes for the sun to rise above the horizon. The number 96 also has some symbolic meaning as the territory of China has 9.6 million square Kms. Even the 56 poles in the balustrade around the base of the flag have a special meaning. They represent the 56 different ethnic nationalities living within China's borders. Besides the daily flag-raising at sunrise and the lowering of the flag at sunset, on the first, eleventh and twenty-first of every month visitors are treated to a grand ceremony. It's quite a show complete with a 60 piece military band.

The Chinese national emblem, which hangs above the entrance to the Great Hall of the People. In the center of the emblem is Tian'anmen or "the Gate of Heavenly Peace". Tian'anmen is the gate which stands at the entrance to the Forbidden City, today's Palace Museum. From the rostrum on top of that gate, Mao Zedong proclaimed the birth of the People's Republic of China in 1949. On the emblem, the gate is illuminated by the five stars from the national flag. As on the flag, the five stars here also symbolize the unity of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party. Stalks of grain, representing the peasant population, surround the gate. Below it there is a cogwheel, a symbol of the working class.

China's national anthem is "The March of the Volunteers." It has quite an interesting history. The song was originally written in 1935 as the theme song for a film called "Sons and Daughters of the Storm." The words were written by Tian Han, a famous modern writer, and set to music composed by Nie Er, a great revolutionary composer. The song urged people to join the National Resistance Movement against the Japanese in World War II. Here is a short excerpt: "Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood, let us build our new Great Wall!" The song immediately swept the nation, and in September 1949, it was one of the songs submitted as a candidate for the national anthem. Many people liked the idea, and it was adopted as the anthem. But it was not until 1982 that "The March of the Volunteers" was officially named the national anthem by the National People's Congress.

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