Ottoman surrender of Jersulaem. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons).

During wars, a white flag is considered the international symbol of surrender. It has long been the case — ancient Romans used a “white wool and branches of olive” during the Punic Wars to signify their parley to thwart an impending doom.

Several other writers also recorded how an invaded kingdom used a white cloth to indicate their surrender. Tacitus recorded of a white flag being displayed during the Second Battle of Cremora in 69 AD. 

Chinese origins

Historians think the white flag came to be for several reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the blank banners are more eye catching, especially in the turmoil of an active battleground. While the precise origin isn’t clear, some of its earliest appearances in historical records are when the Chinese introduced a white flag during a war during the Han Dynasty of the 1st century AD.

White: The Chinese color for death and mourning

But there may be a second reason. Death and mourning have long been associated with the color white in China. White is the primary colors used for funerals even today. Ancient Chinese soldiers may have embraced the color white to signify their anguish in defeat. In the recent years, the white flag has become not just an international symbol for surrender, but it also conveys the meaning of ceasefire and negotiations. 

Pure and unmarred … a great opportunity for a blank slate.