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The Legend of the Eight Banners

Soldiers of the blue banner parading in front of Emperor Qianlong. (Image:  wikimedia  /  CC0 1.0)
Soldiers of the blue banner parading in front of Emperor Qianlong. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Nurhaci, the founder of the Qing Dynasty, established the Eight Banners. Initially, there were only four colored banners that represented four different military units: yellow, white, blue, and red.

Nurhaci, founder of the Qing Dynasty. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Nurhaci, founder of the Qing Dynasty. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

In 1614, a decision was made to unite all the factions, resulting in the addition of the Border yellow, white, blue, and red banners. Collectively, these banners were called the Eight Banners, and they commanded the Manchurian, Mongolian, and Han armies.

There were many Chinese legends associated with the Eight Banners. One tells the story of how the Eight Dragons created the banners:

Yellow Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Yellow Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

White Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

White Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Eight Dragons were not united and often fought with each other. After the Jade Emperor learned of this, he summoned the Dragon King and said:

After receiving the order, each of the Eight Dragons flew to heaven, striving to be the one to accomplish the task. They attempted to move the sun and moon individually; however, no matter how much effort they devoted to the task at hand, each failed.

Blue Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Blue Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Red Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Red Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

After each tried every means possible to move the sun and moon, the Dragon King asked: “Why haven’t you accomplished the task the Jade Emperor imposed on you?”

The dragons rushed to say:

The Dragon king asked: “How did you approach the task?” The dragons replied: “We each tried one after the other.”

Upon hearing that, the Dragon King was furious and scolded them by saying:

After hearing this, the dragons immediately vowed that they would unite. They returned to heaven and cooperated with each other.

They arraigned themselves into a formation similar to the Chinese character for qing, which is composed of eight strokes, with each stroke representing a dragon. The point at the top of the character was formed with two of the dragons.

Border Yellow Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border Yellow Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border White Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border White Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

When they fully cooperated with one another, their formation was like a wedge. They used the wedge to strike between the sun and moon, separating the two bodies, causing the sun to move ahead of the moon.

After accomplishing their task, the Eight Dragons fell to Earth in exhaustion. At that moment, a gust of wind blew each dragon onto eight different colored cloths on the ground where they were permanently fixed. These eight pieces of cloth were used as military banners during the Qing Dynasty.

Border Blue Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border Blue Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border Red Banner (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Border Red Banner. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Since the yellow, white, blue, and red dragons happened to fall on their respective colored cloths, they became the yellow, white, blue, and red banners.

Three of the remaining dragons fell on yellow, white, and blue cloth embroidered with a red border, while the last dragon fell on red cloth embroidered with a white border. The remaining four dragons thus became the Border yellow, white, blue, and red banners, respectively.

Each of the banners had a dragon with clouds and flames, symbolic of battles against the Ming Dynasty.

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