Tigers with bat-like wings were associated with military personnel since the mid-Ming dynasty, embellishing uniforms, robes and equipment. Flying tigers emblazoned military banners during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The beast was thought to have supernatural power, which is symbolized by wings and shooting flames. The Huangchao liqi tushi (Illustrated Precedents for the Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court), which was enforced in 1766, shows several similar flying tiger flags.
Painted depictions of flying tiger banners are displayed in military processions guarding the emperor, particularly in the Southern Inspection Tour scrolls by Wang Hui (1632-1717), which document the Kangxi emperor's trip from Beijing to Nanjing in the Chinese heartland in 1698. These square flying tiger banners in color schemes corresponding to the eight banners (gusa) of the Qing army are seen flying from sterns of the vessels in the fleet that accompanies the emperor crossing the Yangtze River. See E. S. Rawski and J. Rawson, eds., China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, no. 13, pp. 86-9 and 388-89. These banners seem to indicate the boats carrying banner generals.
A banner with a flying tiger brocaded on a yellow ground in a private collection is illustrated by J. Vollmer and J. Simcox, "Tiger-stripe Patterns on Chinese Textiles in the AEDTA Collection," Orientations April 1997, p. 68. A pair of embroidered tiger banners on white grounds with red borders are in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (unpublished). Another in the collection of the Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, embroidered on an olive-green twill ground within a red border is illustrated by M. Hunt Kahlenberg, ed., The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Textiles and Objects from the Collections of Lloyd Costen and the Neutrogena Corporation, New York, 1998, pl. 104, p. 101. Three other known embroidered examples are held in private collections.
Throughout Asia, the tiger is a potent symbol associated with strength and military prowess. In China, the tiger was known as king of the land animals - a complement to the dragon, the chief of aquatic animals. On the animal's forehead the stripes suggest the character, wang, or king. The tiger was associated with yang, the active, life-giving, masculine principle and was the animal guardian of the West. It was claimed that during the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050 - 256 B.C.) living soldiers, dressed in tiger skins, advanced into battle shouting loudly in the hope that their cries would strike much terror in the hearts of their enemies as if they were being confronted with the roars of actual tigers.