Hong Kong, a sovereign and autonomous territory of the People’s Republic of China, and its flag have a historic background as to how they came to be. Following a series of original colonial flags, flags of the occupying military conquerors, and the flags of the regional and urban councils of Hong Kong, the five petals of the Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana) have inspired the design of the bright scarlet red flag with the spiral white flower in the center. This nation has seen many historical flags hoisted up on their flagpoles in the past 200 years, but none of them have been as independent and meaningful as its current flag.
As a British territory following the Opium Wars, Hong Kong did not have its own flag to fly. Instead, it flew the British Union Jack between 1843 to 1868. Between 1868 to 1870, the flag design was disputed, however, once a new flag was established between 1871 to 1876, it was decided to be the British Blue Ensign with a crowned H.K. badge. From 1876 to 1910, the crowned badge was turned into a badge displaying a local waterfront scene that shows three merchants standing by the sea with some crates as two ships pass by them. This waterfront scene, as well as a strikingly similar yet more detailed scene, reigned as the flags of Hong Kong until the Japanese military occupation of WWII in 1941.
As an occupied territory of Japan, Hong Kong flew the empire’s famous white and red Nisshōki (sun-mark) flag in place of their old one. Although Japan’s occupation of Hong Kong was short-lived, from 1941 to 1945, it may have had some resounding effect on the current design of today’s Hong Kong flag. Regardless, when the Japanese flag was taken down, the British Blue Ensign with the waterfront scene was restored until 1959 when a new badge displaying the coat of arms of Hong Kong was established. There was, however, an unofficial flag that displayed Hong Kong’s loyalty to China which was red instead of the well-known British Blue; both the blue and the red flags were flown until 1997. How it came to be what it is today and how it strayed from the traditional British colonial flag is a fascinating story in and of itself.
Over the many years that passed, Hong Kong was gaining sovereignty as an independent nation. Between 1987 and 1988, a contest was held for a new flag design for Hong Kong. An architect named Tao Ho was elected as one of the panel judges to pick from over 7,000 submissions for a new Hong Kong flag. At the end of the contest, six designs were selected as finalists by the judges but were later rejected by the People’s Republic of China. Tao and another judge were then asked to submit their own proposals for a new flag. Seeking inspiration, Tao walked through a garden and picked up a bauhinia blakeana, the Hong Kong orchid. He chose this to be the symbol of Hong Kong and put it up for his design. The design was accepted and adopted on April 4, 1990 while the Union Jack and the colonial flags were removed from every flagpole in Hong Kong.