Here’s everything you should know about the history and meaning behind the flags and anthems of China and the United States.

Songs of Nations

Tian Han (right) and Nie Er (left), 1933.

China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers” honors those who fought on the front during World War II against Japanese invaders in northeast China. The song was written in 1935 by poet Tian Han with music by composer Nie Er, but it didn’t become the provisional national anthem until Sept. 27, 1949, the same day that China’s national flag and emblem was also approved. It was officially adopted as the national anthem on Dec. 4, 1982, according to China’s Central Government website.

Listen to the “March of the Volunteers”:

The national anthem of the United States is “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by lawyer Francis Scott Key as he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 13-14, 1814 at the hands of the British navy. After a 25 hours of fire, the British failed to take the fort and Key was thrilled to see that the U.S. flag was still flying. The melody is taken from the older song “To Anacreon in Heaven,” often heard at a London gentleman’s club. The U.S. Congress adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem in 1931.

Listen to the “The Star Spangled Banner”:


The look and sound of national anthems and flags are often a reflection of the time in which they were adopted, said Rutgers University Sociology Professor Karen A. Cerulo author of “Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation.”

“The Chinese anthem was established during a very tumultuous period of revolution and adopted to draw people together around a common cause,” Cerulo said.

“This is not exactly true for the Star Spangled Banner. It was very much commemorative of a battle that happened long ago and was ultimately adopted as a political nod to veterans 150 years after the nation was created… and doesn’t have that kind of timely element.”

Some national anthems are more regal and ceremonious, such as England’s “God Save the Queen” while others, such as China’s, have a greater sense of urgency, Cerulo said.

“China’s anthem is a call to arms, it invites participate, many anthems are like that. Even though it’s about a historical event, it feels more contemporary, calling for the action to continue,” Cerulo said.

The March of the Volunteers The Star Spangled Banner
Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!
Let us amount our flesh and blood,
towards our new Great Wall!
The Chinese nation faces its greatest peril,
The thundering roar of our peoples will be heard!
Arise! Arise! Arise!
We are many, but our hearts beat as one!
Selflessly braving the enemy’s gunfire, march on!
Selflessly braving the enemy’s gunfire, march on!
March on! March on! on!
O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming!
And the rockets’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
在自由的土地上飘舞, 在勇者的家园上飞扬?

Old Glory and Wu Xing Hong Qi


The national flag of China has a red background symbolizing revolution, one large yellow star and four smaller yellow stars that represent golden rays radiating from a vast red land, according to the China Yearbook. The stars also represent the unity of the Chinese people. The design for the flag was open to a nationwide competition in 1949. Zeng Liansong’s submission was ultimately selected out of 1,920 submissions.

The American flag has 13 horizontal stripes that alternate between seven red and six white stripes. The top left quarter is blue with 50 white stars, representing the number of states in the union. The original design of the flag was adopted during the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, since there were only 13 states at that time, the flag had 13 stars. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman declared June 14 Flag Day. Upon admission of every subsequent new state into the union, the number of stars grew. The last star was Hawaii in 1960. On Aug. 21, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order establishing the 50-star flag as the national flag.

The flags of the two nations are examples of both a complex design in the United States and a simple design in China. Simpler flags often have fewer colors, fewer points of contrast, and fewer details, Cerulo said.

“You can chart simplicity versus complexity in a flag in relation to what was going on at the time it was created. The American flag tends to be enormously complicated,” Cerulo said.

The United States had a more heterogenous population that necessitated a more complex design, she added. Other flags such as China’s or France’s, for example are far simpler, as a result of greater solidarity in governing and high periods of nationalism.

“Periods where there were high levels of solidarity among the population, are where we see simpler structures and symbols and adornments,” Cerulo said. “If people are joined together because the country is under attack, and populations tend to join together… for that period of nationalism, national identity, those tend to have more simple designs.”