The ‘Other’ Vietnamese Flag

Like the Stars and Stripes, the Vietnamese flags is laden with symbolism and historical meaning, which makes Vietnamese American feel a great emotional bond with its “colors”.

Visit any Little Saigon around the world, and one is likely to see a flag displaying “three horizontal red stripes on a golden yellow background” fluttering proudly against the blue sky. Ask your friend, neighbor, student, or client, and she or he will tell you that those are the ‘color” of Free Vietnam. It is the flag under which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder and died, defending freedom against an internationally inspired and communist-led aggressive war against the Republic of Vietnam. That the war ended in 1975 in the subjugation of South Vietnam in no way reflects negatively on the symbolism of those “color”. In fact, the very survival of that flag is the survival of the idea of freedom, which remains the ideal of all free men on earth.


The Vietnamese flag has a yellow background and three horizontal red stripes along its entire length. The “golden yellow” has been the traditional color of Vietnam for over two thousand years. It is also the color of earth, as understood in universal scheme of five elements in Oriental cosmology. The three stripes represent three regions of Vietnam: North, Central, and South Vietnam as united in a national community. The vibrant red color of the stripes is the color of blood flowing through one’s veins-symbolic of Vietnam’s unflagging struggle for independence throughout its recorded history.

Historical Identity

As in the case of the Stars and Stripes, the Vietnamese flag bonds Vietnamese American with their historical past: the identity of the “Ngo.n co+` va`ng” (Yellow Flag) has enabled the Vietnamese to survive as a nation even after a millennium of Chinese and French domination. Thus, the “golden yellow” flag came to be irrevocably associated with the Vietnamese, their national territory, and their history.

The flag championed by free Vietnamese everywhere was flown for the first time at a ceremony marking the official recognition by France of Vietnamese unity and independence. It is a new version of a similar flag (“Co+` Que? Ly”) first flown in March 1945 when Vietnam under Emperor Bao Dai reclaimed its independence from France. The three-redstriped yellow flag continued to be the official flag of the Republic of Vietnam, which was recognized by the United Nations from 1950 to April 1975.

Contrast With The Vietnamese Communist Flag

The “yellow star on red background” flag of communist Vietnam called the Social Republic of Vietnam (SRV) first made its official appearance in September 1945, when Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam. As the SRV is now recognized by the United Nations and many nations in the world including the Unites States, its flag is questioned by all free Vietnamese around the world, including Vietnamese Americans.

Firstly, it is the symbol of a party imposed on the Vietnamese since August 1945. It was the official flag of the Indochinese Communist Party (1930-1945).

Secondly, it is an international flag, not a national flag. each point of the yellow star represents one of the five protectorates of the Union of French Indochina: Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina, Cambodia, and Laos. By maintaining this flag, communist Vietnam on the one hand, harks back to a period of French colonialism, while on the other hand, keeping alive the imperialist ambition of an Indochinese Federation under Hanoi’s thumb.

Thirdly, it is a communist flag. The blood red color of the background refers to the violence of class struggle and the ultimate victory of the proletariat revolution throughout the world, as proclaimed by international communists. But international communist is dead with the downfall of Soviet Union in 1991.

In brief, the Vietnamese communist flag symbolizes an antithesis to the very idea of freedom and peace that Vietnamese Americans and free Vietnamese around the world want to foster in our community and in generations of younger Vietnamese.

A Choice of Hope and Love of freedom

To Vietnamese Americans, the Vietnamese Communist flag is a reminder of death. It is a blood-reeking flag under which some three and a half million Vietnamese lives have been sacrificed for the war-mongering goals of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) as proclaimed in Hanoi’s national anthem, “Forward, Soldiers!” which says in part: “We swear to tear our enemies apart and drink their blood!”. 30,000 landowners were lynched to death or summarily executed by Vietnamese communists before the 1954 Geneva Agreement. Some 1,200 civilians were shot and buried alive during the 1968 Tet Offensive. 50,000 religious leaders and political prisoners have been executed in “re-education” camps since 1975.

Most Vietnamese Americans, having fled persecution and reprisals, find the display of the “yellow star on red background” flag insulting, offensive, and culturally insensitive. It is like flying the swastika flag of Nazi Germany in the presence of Jewish-Americans.

The choice of the Vietnamese flag affects Vietnamese and Americans alike. 58,000 Americans laid down their lives in the Vietnam War for a noble cause – the cause of freedom and democracy. Witness the “three red stripes on yellow background” flag proudly hoisted at the Vietnamese Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day and the Four of July. It is the same flag that decorates the medals on the chests of million Vietnamese who have fled communist totalitarianism since 1975 and have successfully resettled in “the Land of the Free”, the “three red stripes on yellow background” flag will always be a symbol of hope and love of freedom. It is the banner around which all free Vietnamese identify themselves and rally – as long as the dream of a free Vietnam remains alive and well.