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China - Shipping houseflags

Last modified: 2020-07-31 by ian macdonald
Keywords: china | shipping | houseflag | china merchants group | china ocean shipping company | yangtze river transport company |
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See also:

China Coast Freight Co. Ltd.

[China Coast Freight Co. Ltd.]
Jan Mertens, 31 January 2010

'China Coast Freight Co. Ltd' is an NVOCC (non-vessel operation common carrier) established at Ningbo, an important port in Zhejiang Province, China. Website
"We offer weekly sailings to over 80 destinations throughout main China coast ports. CCF has guaranteed space with all carriers and private off dock  warehousing at most destinations. Our core business is the handling of less than container load (LCL), full container load (FCL), and Air cargo into many destinations worldwide. In addition, we offer Import LCL/FCL transportation services from many origins around the world into the China."
Services include warehousing, customs clearance, and further distribution.

[China Coast Freight Co. Ltd.]
Jan Mertens, 31 January 2010

The flag drawing shown on the site is blue field bearing white initials "CCF" (no serifs) and broad horizontal edges in red, fimbriated white.
However this clickable page shows a variant without the white fimbriations, in fact the remaining stripes have equal width (initials still without serifs but put together in the centre) so this version has been depicted which has the advantage of appearing on an official document, a B/L (bill of lading).
No point in searching for photos of ships flying one of above flags I suppose... but let us put CCF on record.
Jan Mertens, 31 January 2010

China Merchant's Group

China Merchant Steam Navigation Company

[Merchant Ensign]
image by Mario Fabretto

The China Merchants Group still exists. Nowadays it has its headquarters in Hong Kong, and it has a website ( Its history page (available only in Chinese) lists the important events throughout the company's 130-year history. Here I will quote only a few relevant ones.

  • 1872 - Dec 26: China Merchant Steam Navigation Company established with the approval of the Imperial Government.
  • 1873 - July: CMSNC changed its flag from the 'twin fish-dragon flag' to the red flag with 'the yellow moon'.
  • 1884 - July 29: Sino-French War broke out. CMSNC 'sold' its fleet to an American sister company to allow the ships to sail under the neutral US Flag.
  • 1885 - May 17: The 'sold' ships reverted to flying the CMSNC Flag.
  • 1951 - Feb 1: CMSNC was 'communized' to become Chinese People's Shipping Company. [The website does not say this, but the house flag would thereafter be a white-red-white horizontal tricolour with a yellow star between yellow zig-zags (three layers of 'M's on each side) in the red.]
  • Feb 14: The Hong Kong branch petitioned the head office to retain the name CMSNC.
  • Mar 15: The head office approved the retaining of the name CMSNC in Hong Kong.
  • 1980 - Jan 8: The shipping branch of CMSNC was renamed Hong Kong Ming Wah Shipping Company.
  • 1985 - Nov 12: CMSNC renamed China Merchants Group.
  • 1988 - Mar 25: China Merchant Group bought over a dozen ships (combined full displacements 1.6 million tonnes) from the 'Tung's Shipping Group' (Oriental Overseas Container Line Ltd

In light of this information, I can say that while the yellow disc on red flag was, strictly speaking, the house flag of CMSNC, it was the de facto Chinese merchant ensign during the monarchy. Moreover, the list does not mention the variant flags with one or two dragons inside the disc - so my old assertion that these variants were fantasy flags still stands. In any case, The yellow moon flag is no longer flown nowadays... but at least they still remember it.
Miles Li, 7 December 2003

4 October 1872 - January 1873

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 11 September 2014

The first house flag of CMSNC was approved by Zongli Yamen (Foreign Office) on 4 October 1872. Yellow field with a pair of fish outlined in blue, the Chinese word 'fish' being a homophonic pun with 'surplus'.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

How is this a pun? Was the company surplus in any way?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 September 2014

'Fish' (魚) and 'Surplus' (餘) are both pronounced 'yú'. And yes, I am referring to company surplus/profit.
Miles Li, 12 September 2014

To me "surplus" means "that which is more than is needed". Since that makes it waste, I didn't quite see how that was going to apply to the company. But I can see how one would nick name ones company "profit".
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 September 2014

January - July 1873

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 11 September 2014

The second house flag of CMSNC was similar to the first, but with a red field. This change was possibly because the yellow field was reserved for the Emperor - although given the first flag did have the approval from the Imperial Government we cannot say for sure.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

July 1873 - 1942

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 11 September 2014

The third house flag of CMSNC was also the best known. Red field with a yellow moon. The company name 'China Merchant' often led to this house flag being mistaken as the Imperial Chinese merchant ensign.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

1942 - 31 January 1951 (- 1972 in Taiwan)

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 11 September 2014

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) China became effectively landlocked; some CMSNC ships did operate out of the then British colony of Hong Kong, until it too was occupied by Japan in December 1941. A few ships survived, but without a neutral home port, and as such the house flag had to be changed to avoid being mistaken as the Japanese hinomaru. The solution was to use the Chinese  civil ensign, but with the 'blue sky, white sun' canton replaced by the 'red field, yellow moon'.
Unlike the Chinese civil ensign, which always had six-and-a-half zig-zags on each yellow line, later (manufactured rather than converted) examples of the house flag had several variations in the number of zig-zags per line.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

After the establishment of the PRC in 1949, CMSNC was split into two - the Communist company based in Hong Kong and the Nationalist company based in Taiwan. The former ceased using the house flag after January 1951, whereas the latter continued to fly it until it was re-formed as Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation in 1972.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

1 February - August 1951

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 12 September 2014

In February 1951 CMSNC in mainland China was re-formed as the Chinese People's Shipping Company, with a new house flag based on the national flag, with three yellow lines of five zig-zags at the base. The company was dissolved in August the same year. (the name CMSNC remained unchanged in Hong Kong.) Despite the different company name the house flag is still considered the fifth official flag of CMSNC.
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

COSCO - 1 March 1960 - 13 April 1993

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 12 September 2014

Between August 1951 and April 1961 international shipping to and from the PRC were carried out mostly by privately-owned, government-run, flag-of-convenience ships, necessary due to the UN-imposed embargo on the PRC in retaliation to its involvement in the Korean War. As diplomatic situation of the PRC improved, an official Chinese state shipping line, COSCO, was officially formed on 27 April 1961. In advance of its establishment a house flag was adopted, white with a wide red horizontal stripe bearing a yellow five-pointed star between three pairs of yellow double zig-zags. (Although never part of CMSNC, COSCO can be considered a successor of CMSNC in mainland China, so it is included here.)
Miles Li, 11 September 2014

I have corrected the date to 13 April 1993; the current COSCO house flag was adopted the day after, on 14 April 1993)
Miles Li, 12 September 2014

Since 1984

[CMSNC Flag]
image by Miles Li, 12 September 2014

The sixth and current flag of CMSNC - renamed China Merchants Group on 12 November 1985 - is blue with a stylized initials 'CM' in yellow. This is not a house flag in the true sense of the word, since CMSNC/China Merchants Group has for years not operated ships under its own flag, but via a number of subsidiaries.
Miles Li
, 11 September 2014

According to the COSCO website, 1949 saw the bulk of the China Merchants Steam Navigation Co. seized by Taiwan. Thereafter the fleet appeared in Lloyds as China Merchants Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. based in Taipei.
As Miles says it appears that the yellow moon flag is no longer flown.
Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

See also:

China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO)

[China Ocean Shipping Company houseflag]
image contributed by Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

The flag shown in Brown 1995 [lgr95] below is wrong in that the blue bands should be white. I fear the gremlins hit the Brown printing in this case and previous editions show it correctly. As is stated in the Brown notes, the livery above was used for most of vessels of the Government of the People's Republic of China with COSCO adopting its own flag, being the 2nd version shown by Jorge, in the early 1990s.

[China Ocean Shipping Company houseflag]
image by Jarig Bakker, 21 January 2006
Source: Brown's Flags and Funnels of Shipping Companies of the World [lgr95]

Beijing - horizontal brightblue - red - brightblue flag; in center 5-pointed star between two rows of three waves, all yellow.
Jarig Bakker, 21 January 2006

[China Ocean Shipping Company houseflag]
image by Jorge Candeias, 15 February 1999

Overseas Subsidiaries

COSCO (Hong Kong)

[China Ocean Shipping Company, Hong Kong houseflag]
image contributed by Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

COSCO (HK) Shipping Co. Ltd. differs by having a blue flag with the combined white letters " CHS" with a slight lean, being seen on their website.
Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

COSCO (Singapore)

[China Ocean Shipping Company, Singapore houseflag]
image contributed by Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

I am told that COSCO (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. adds " SINGAPORE" in smaller white lettering to the group flag.
Neale Rosanoski, 9 August 2007

China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd. (CSCL)

[Shanghai Inland River Steamer Transport Co.]
image by Zoltan Horvath, 08 Februray 2014

"China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd. (CSCL) is a division of China Shipping Group (China Shipping), is a containerized marine shipping company, based in Shanghai, China, established in 1997, provides fully containerized marine and intermodal freight transport, storage, and electronic data interchange services worldwide".
The flag is a white background with the logo in the middle.
Picture taken on September 12, 2011 in Buenos Aires Argentina), outside their branch office.
For additional information go to: China Shipping Container Lines Co Ltd. (official website)
Esteban Rivera, 17 January 2012

Shanghai Inland River Steamer Transport Co. Ltd

[Shanghai Inland River Steamer Transport Co.]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 3 September 2006

Recently at Boone Scripophily was a 1939 Chinese share for ‘Shanghai Inland River Steamer Transport Co. Ltd’ in the ‘Navigation’ section.
As noted:

10 Shares. brown, yellow, black. No 52. Fine vignettes of two of the company's river-steamers on the river. Also the company's flag, also seen on the steamers. Text all in Chinese. Two punch-holes near edge.

Jan Mertens, 2 September 2006

Shenzhen Peng Xing Shipping Co.

[Shenzhen Peng Xing Shipping Co]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 19 January 2011

Shenzhen Peng Xing Shipping Co., Ltd at Shekou Industrial Zone, Nanshan District (Shenzen, China) is a high-speed ferry operator. English version website.
In their own words (offering a bit of history as well):
"Shenzhen Pengxing Shipping Company Ltd. was formerly known as the Shenzhen Shipping Company established in 1982. The company was jointly controlled (...) by Shenzhen People Government and Guangzhou Maritime Transport Bureau of the Ministry of Communication.
In December 1997, due to the re-structuring of the organization, Shenzhen Shipping Company was taken over by Shenzhen Shipping Head Office. In 2004 the company was renamed Shenzhen Pengxing Shipping Company Limited."
We learn that since 1983 the company has been operating ferry local routes, purely domestic ones (including local tourist spots) and others linking Shekou to Macao, Kowloon, and Hong Kong. See this map:
The fleet consists of eight high-speed catamarans, presented here (photos and descriptions):
Shown on top of page and painted on the ships' hulls, the striking house flag is mainly red while two white small, horizontal, and hooked (opposite) lines start from the flag's vertical edges, each from one side. Put simply: a large red initial 'S' almost completely filling up a white field!
Drawing taken from site, there is a somewhat enlarged image. No real flag seen on photos or in filmlets.
Jan Mertens, 14 January 2011

Yangtze River Transport Co.

[Yangsee River Transport]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 23 March 2006

One of the gems offered in Boone Scripophily's recent auction was a share of the Yangtze River Transport Co.
Comments: “50 Shares, 2500 yuan. blue, green, black, red. No 210. Issued during the period of Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Company flag. Text in Chinese.”
Year of issue was 1943. The house flag is shown at the top of the document and is horizontally divided: the background being white, on the upper half are placed four red stripes whereas the lower half contains a red saltire touching the lower stripe.
Jan Mertens, 20 March 2006

The flag is a highly modified version of the Chinese ideogram 長 (Chá ng) from 長江 (Cháng Jiāng), the modern Chinese name of the Yangtze River. It was common for many flags in Japan and Japanese-controlled areas to adopt flags bearing highly modified ideograms. Examples include:

Miles Li, 23 March 2006