AN EMBROIDERED YELLOW 'DRAGON' BANNER, ZHENGHUANG QI QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
Qing military troops were organized by colour under the Eight Banner system. The Eight Banners were administrative divisions into which all Manchu families were placed and were the foundations of the basic framework of the Qing military organization. Each of the Eight Banner had its own coloured flag to help coordinate attacks on the battlefield and to maintain order during military parades and ceremonies.
The present flag was associated with the 'Plain Yellow Banner' (Zhenghuang qi) which was one of the three 'Upper Banners' directly responsible to the Emperor himself. The two other banners in this prestigeous group were the 'Bordered Yellow' and the 'Plain White'. The remaining five banners, called the 'Lower Banners', were responsible to the princes. Examples of 'Plain Yellow' dragon flags can be seen painted on the Imperial court painting Wanshou Dianjing Tu which depicts a military parade held in the capital to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Qianlong's mother. This painting is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and is illustrated in Qingdai Gongting shenghuo/ Life in the Palace during the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 1985, pl. 385.
A green dragon flag, possibly associated with the 'Green Standard Army' (Luyingbing) is published in John E. Vollmer, Silks for Thrones and Altars, Paris, n.d., pl. 35; and a pair of white dragon flags, belonging to the 'Plain White' Banner, is illustrated on the official website of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Museum.