Cochin China

Colony of Cochin China

Republic of Cochin China

State of Vietnam

Republic of Vietnam

Armed Forces


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A division of the Lê Empire of Annam occurred in 1527 when it was divided in a Northern part ruled by the Mac and later by the Trinh Dynasty. The South henceforth was ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty.

In 1623, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, residing in Hué and the lord of the (then) southern provinces of Viet-nam, established a trading community at Saigon with the consent of the king of Cambodia. Over the next 50 years, Vietnamese control slowly expanded in this area but only gradually as the Nguyễn were fighting a protracted civil war with the Trịnh Lords in the north.

With the end of the war with the Trịnh, the Nguyễn were able to devote more effort (and military force) to conquest of the south. First, the remaining Champa territories were taken; next, the areas around the Mekong river were placed under Vietnamese control.

In the late 18th century, Vietnam was briefly unified under the Tây Sơn. These were three brothers, former

Rulers of South Vietnam

(Cochin China)

Nguyễn Hoàng


Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên


Nguyễn Phúc Lan


Nguyễn Phúc Tần


Nguyễn Phúc Trăn


Nguyễn Phúc Chu


Nguyễn Phúc Trú


Nguyễn Phúc Khoát


Nguyễn Phúc Thuần


Nguyễn Phúc Dương


Nguyễn Phúc Ánh


Vietnamese Rule 1802-18

French Colony 1864-1941

Japanese Occupation 1941-1945

French Colony 1945-1946

Republic of Cochin China 1946-1948

peasants, who succeeded in conquering first the lands of the Nguyễn and then the lands of the Trịnh. But final unification came under Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, a remarkably tenacious member of the Nguyễn noble family who fought for 25 years against the Tây Sơn and ultimately conquered the entire country in 1802. He ruled all of Vietnam under the name Gia Long.




The Champa Empire covered for a lomg time most of today’s South Vietnam. It was slowly conquered by North-Vietnamese rulers until in the 18th century there ony remained a trunk state in the far south. Today the Champa are an ethnic minority in Vietnam.

From the eraly Chapa Empire there remain the famous bronze drums.



Two drums from the South Vietnamese Champa era. 3rd century BC.


12- and 16-rayed suns probably meant to be the emblem of the Champa Empire. The surrounding birds are egrets and are probably the emblems of the ruling dynasty. Generally the drum is a symbol of Royal Authority. As such it is qualified from Africa to the Indonesian Archipelago. In Central Africa  for example, the ‘mastering of the drum’ was a condition for royal succession. In Indonesia the great gong was the centerpiece of the orchestra of the court.

The sound of Champa drums are said to stimulate rain and could only be beaten by high-ranking individuals thus legitimizing their authority.[1]


Rattan shield with Champa sun.

19th century. Musée d’Angoulème (Fr.). Collection Jules Lhomme


This shield suggests that the Champa sun as a symbol of the empire was handed over for more than  two millennia.


Cochin China


Flag of Cochin-China.

Europe, 18th century. With the legend ‘Vlag van Sina’


According to early 18th century flag-charts the flag of the Nguyen lords showed a spiral between some mythical beasts. No local and contemporary sources mention this flag. [2] The spiral undoubtedly is a version of the yin-yang symbol which is the emblem of state.

The other symbols are symbols of authority. They are: a bust, a dragon, a phoenix, a snake (python), a fish (?), an ape (?), a crane and a pot of flowers.

These symbols remind the symbols of authority and the five elements of nature as on Qing Emperor’s clothes.[3] Such symbols, but different, are also on the ‘Nine Dynastic Urns’ in the Forbidden City of Hué, made 1835. [4]

A possible meaning of the flag would be ‘the head of state holding eight authorities’.


Flag of Cochin China,

From a German Flag book 1878.. With the legend ‘Cochinchina’.


This flag became obsolete with the proclamation of the Empire in 1802. [5]


From this time is the seal of  Nguyên Phuc Chu (1691-1725), having a lion-and-ball as its handle.



Seal with lion-handle, 1709

Made for Nguyên Phuc Chu (1691-1725) master of the State of Annam.

Gold, 108 Í 108 Í 63 mm.

On the left side the legend: Kê bát thập kim, lục hốt tứ lạng tứ tiền tâm phân (80% pure gold, weighing 6 lingots, 4 and 4/10 and 3/100 taël (= 64,43 taëls = 2364 g)

On the right: Vĩnh Thịnh ngũ niên thập nhị nguyệt sơ lực nhật tạo, (created the 6th day of the 12th month of the 5th year of the Vinh Thinh era (1709).



Print of the seal


The inscription on the seal reads: Đại Việt quốc Nguyễn Chúa vĩnh trấn chi bảo, (Seal of the eternal government of the Nguyen Lords of the Great kingdom of Viêt).


This seal classifies Nguyên Phuc Chu as a mandarin (official) of the 2nd military rank. [6]


Colony of Cochin China



In September 1858, France occupied Đà Nẵng (Tourane). On 18 February 1859, they conquered Saigon and three southern Vietnamese provinces: Biên Ḥa, Gia Định and Dinh Tuong; the Vietnamese government was forced to cede those territories to France in June 1862.

In 1867, the provinces of Châu Đốc, Ha Tien and Vĩnh Long were added to French controlled territory. In 1864 all the French territories in southern Vietnam were declared to be the new French colony of Cochinchina.

From then on until 1945, the emblems of authority of the French Republic were also valid in Cochin China. The seal of the Republic, consisting of a seated Liberty with fasces was slightly adapted for the purpose. The symbols for agriculure, the arts and science were replaced by a sheaf of rice. On the right side the branches of oak were replaced by an anchor (as, initially, the colony was under the supervision of the Ministry of the Navy and the Colonies) and the cock on the rudder disappeared.  Also, and of some symbolic importance, the urn symbolizing General Suffrage was omitted.



1 centime-piece 1879.

 On the reverse the legend COCHINCHINE FRANÇAISE


In 1887, Cochin China became part of the Union of French Indochina which had the same adapted seal.

In July 1941, Japanese troops were based in French Cochinchina (a de facto occupation). After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, Cochin China was returned to French rule.


Cong Hoa Nam Ky  (Republic Cochin China)



South Vietnam

In southern Vietnam, the Japanese surrendered to British forces. The British supported the Free French forces in fighting the Viet Minh.


On 1 June 1946 admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu, high commisioner in Indochina, proclaimed the Autonomous Republic of Cochin China  with Dr. Nguyễn Văn Thinh as its president. As it frustrated the Vietminh's desire to rule all of Vietnam, war between France and the Vietminh followed (1946–54). By Law of 4 June 1949 Cochin China was integrated into the State of Viet-Nam.

Flag of the Republic of Cochin China


The emblem of this republic was, according to the Official Bulletin of 15 July 1946, a yellow flag with three blue horizontal stripes (a trigram meaning ‘South’). [7]


On 10 October 1946 the Vệ binh Cộng ḥa Nam Kỳ, the (South Vietnamese) Republican Guard was founded.

On 9 June 1948  it was renamed Vệ binh Nam Việt (VBNV, South Vietnamese Guard).


Emblem of the South Vietnamese Republican Guard





Arms of the South Vietnamese Guard, 1948-‘54.

The emblem of the Republican Guard showed a halberd, a mace, a bow and a quiver in saltire, charged with a red disc charged with a lion’s mask and surrounded by a white bordure.

In chief are the arms of the Republic: Or, a pale Azure charged with two pallets Argent.[8]


The arms of the VBNV was: Gules, a sword per pale surrounded by a dragon Or. In chief a yellow scroll with the initials V.B.N.V.


Quoc-gia Viet-nam (State of Vietnam)



Cochin China was renamed the “Republic of South Vietnam” in 1947, the “Provisional Central Government of Vietnam” in 1948, and the “State of Vietnam”, with former emperor Bảo Đại as head of state, in 1949. The Bảo Đại government received international diplomatic recognition in 1950.


The flag was changed by decree n° 3 Art, 3 of 2 June 1948. The stripes were made red again, like on the flag of Thanh Thai. They have the form of the trigram for ‘South’ but they can also be interpreted to be a symbol for the three Vietnamese territories of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China.

Seal of  Bao Dai 1949-1954


The First Indochina War lasted until 1954, with the French being defeated at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

France and the Vietminh then concluded the Geneva Accords in 1954. As a result of this agreement, the southern half of the French protectorate of Annam was merged with the State of Vietnam, with the resulting state commonly referred to as South Vietnam. The French re-installed Bao Dai as head of state of “the State of Vietnam”, which comprised central and southern Vietnam.

The Geneva Conference of 1954 ended France's colonial presence in Vietnam and temporarily partitioned the country into 2 states at the 17th parallel (pending unification on the basis of internationally supervised free elections). The US installed Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister of South Vietnam with Bao Dai as the king of a constitutional monarchy.

After the Geneva Accords a coat of arms appeared. It showed the pale and pallets of the flag, arranged vertically and charged with a blue dragon passant. 


Arms of Vietnam, 1954-1955


This coat of arms became obsolete in 1955.


Viet-nam Cong-Hoa



Prime minister Diem used a referendum in 1955 to depose Bao Dai and declare himself as President of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed in Saigon on 22 October 1955.

The first emblem of the Republic showed bushes of bamboo growing on a hill.


Emblem of the Vietnamese Republic, used 1955-1957

Presidential seal


On the presidential seal there were bushes of bamboo and the name of the country and the office as a legend.


In the autumn of 1957 the second emblem was introduced with the bushes of bamboo and a scroll with the name VIET-NAM, encompassing a paint brush and a sword.


Emblem of the Vietnamese Republic, used 1957-1963.

A coloured version shows the background yellow, the bamboo green and the bordure red.


Seal of the President of the Vietnamese Republic, used 1955 - 1963.



Presidential Flag


Achievement of the Viet Cong

on a diplom of the Viet Cong, 1966


The Viet Cong or National Liberation Front (NLF), was a political organization and army in South Vietnam. It was established in 1960 by South vietnamese communist rebels against the republican government. Its full name was National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam).

A  flag was adopted in 1960 and was a variation of the flag of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It consited of two breadts red and blue and had a yellow star in the middle.

An achievement of the Viet Cong consisted of a disc of the colours of the flag, the star surrounded by ears of rice and a cogwheel in base (the emblem of the democratic army). The disc was supported by six Viet Cong flags.


After the assasination of Diem on 1 November 1963 the emblem with the bamboo-bushes disappeared. It was replaced by a coat of arms ‘of the flag’, supported by two green dragons.


Arms:  Or, a pale Gules, two pallets Or.

Supporters: Two Chinese dragons Or. [9]






On the presidential seal the achievement is surrounded by the legend: viet-nam cong-hoa tong-thông. The achievement was used 1963-1975.


Presidential Flag


After the Tet-offensive of 1968 and the resulting e Paris Peace Agreement of 1973, American military forces withdrew from Vietnam. Despite the peace treaty, the North continued the war, and defeated the South in April 1975. In 1976, South Vietnam was officially united with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


Cong-hoa Mien-nam Viet-nam



When Saigon capitulated to the Viet-Cong on 1 May 1975 a Republic of South Vietnam was established. This Republic adopted a national emblem identical to the emblem of the Democratic Republic, the star and the cogwheel replaced by the map of Vietnam. On the scroll below is the name of the Republic: Cong-Hoa Mien-nam Viet-nam.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


On 2 July 1975 the Republic of South Vietnam was united with the Democratic Republic and ceased to exist. The union received the name Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cong-hoa Ca-hoi Chu-nghia Viet-nam)


Armed Forces


Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces

Quan Luc Viet Nam Cong Hoa

Vietnam Armed Forces All Services badge






Vietnam Armed Forces Tri-service badge


Army / Quan Doi


On 12 April 1947 the Bảo vệ quân (BVQ, Defense Force) was founded in Hué. In 1948 it was renamed Việt binh đoàn (VBD, Vietnamese Army).

The badge of the VBD showed a rectangular shiled charged with the arms of Vietnam and the legend VIET BINH DOAN, and was supported by a dragon, the sun-emblem in its mouth.


Badge of the Việt binh đoàn

Vietnamese Army (1947-49)



Badge of the Vệ binh Quốc gia

Vietnamese National Guard (1949-’55)

Somewhat before the integration of Cochin China into Vietnam on 4 June 1949,  the Vệ binh Quốc gia (VBQG, National Guard of (South-) Vietnam) was founded by decree of the Minister of Defense of 13 April 1949.


The achievement of the VBQG  was:

Arms: Gules, a phoenix displayed with swords in its claws, on his breast and escutcheon Or, three bendlets sinister Gules.

Crest: A flaming sun

Supporters: Two dragons

Motto: QUOC-GIA VIET-NAM on a scroll in base


In 1955, when the Republic was proclaimed, the VBQG was renamed Quân đội Việt Nam Cộng ḥa (QDVN, Vietnamese Republican Army).


Republican Army 1955-‘75

The achievement of the Republican army is:

Arms: Or, a pale Gules charged with two pallets of the first.

Supporter: A Phoenix wings displayed, armed with two swords, Or.

Garland: Ears of rice, Or.

Motto: DANH DỰ -TỔ QUỐC -TRÁCH NHIỆM (Honor, Nation, Responsibility) in red lettering on a scroll Or.


Navy / Hai  Quan










The origins of the Viet Nam Navy (Hai Quan Viet Nam) are in the French Navy of 1952. In 1954, in accordance with the Elysee Accords, the French handed control of the armed forces to the Vietnamese, but at the request of the Vietnamese government, continued to be in charge of the Navy until 20 August 1955.

The arms of the Vietnamese Navy  of 1954 were:


Arms: Gules, an anchor Or surrounded by a dragon Azure, on the dexter the letters HQVN Or.








The emblem of the Republican Navy shows:

A steering wheel of eight spokes, charged with a foul anchor and a five-pointed star counterchanged, on the wheel the legend TONG HÔI HÁI QUÁN VIET NAM CONG HOÁ ó MAGISTER POST DEUMó (Republic of Vietnam Navy Command / Master after the Lord).


The seal shows:

Azure, a base wavy Sable, the map of Vietnam issuant from the chief Or, and a foul anchor per pale charged with a five-pointed star Argent and Sable counterchanged.

The motto reads TO QUOC DAI DUONG (Our Country, The Ocean), and is written on a ring of the national colours around the disc.


Air Force / Khong Quan




The Vietnam Air Force, Khong Quan was inaugurated on 31 January 1955.

The arms are:

Arms: Azure, a dragon issuant Sable winged of the flag of the Republic, piercing clouds Argent.

Motto: TO QUOC  KHONG GIAN (Our Home is the Air)


The roundel is derived from the U.S. Air Force roundel.

Its cap badge showed the phoenix of the army, the initials V.N. (Vietnam) on its breast, a sun as a crest and two dragons as ‘supporters’.




Wings [10]



The Republic of Vietnam Marine Division (Sư Đoàn Thủy Quân Lục Chiến (TQLC)) was established by Ngo Dinh Diem on 13 October 1954.



Cap badge


Its arms are derived from the US Marines emblem. It is:

Arms: Vert, a fould anchor per bend sinister, charged with a globe, charged with a five-pointed star Gules charged, with the map of Vietnam and crested with a phoenix Or.






Police Command 1948







Ancient Police Badge




Cap Badge



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© Hubert de Vries 2012-02-10; Updated 2013-04-09



[1] Vietnam. Kunst en Culuren van de prehistorie tot op heden. Brussel 2003-’04. p 27.

[2] Danckertsz, Cornelis: 1. Nieuwe Tafel van al de Zee vaarende Vlagge des Weerelts, ca. 1700.  2. Nieuwe Tafel van alle de Zee-varende Vlagge des Werelts. op nieuws van alle voorgaande Fouten gesuyvert.  ca. 1750

[3] Vollmer, John: In the Presence of the Dragon Throne. Ch’ing Dynasty Costume in the royal Ontario Museum. Toronto, 1977

[4] Bao Dai: Hue, the Forbidden City. Paris, 1995.  N°s 43-53.

[5] This flag was still documented  in 1878 by A.M. Gritzner in his  Flaggen u. Banner Landesfarben aller Zivilisierten Staaten der Erde. Nürnberg, 1878. (Taf. 68). In 1856 Von Hefner thinks in his Die Wappen der Ausserdeutschen Souveräne und Staaten. (Nürnberg, 1856). that the arms of  Cochin-China are identical to the flag being yellow with a bordure idented white and blue (alias a bordure of blue flames). This however is the flag of the empire, charged with a red disc the flag of the emperor.

[6] After Les Carnets de Philippe Truong

[7] Neue und veränderte Staatswappen seit 1945 IIa, Die Wappen der Staaten Asiens. In: Jahrbuch / Heraldischer Verein Zum Kleeblatt von 1888 zu Hannover". 1968. P. 67. note 148.

[8] The difference between the flag and this “arms” has caused some confusion as it was supposed that the flag should have been also yellow with three blue stripes separated by two white ones. This should however to be blamed to an error in a publication about the flag of 1946.