The design used a variety of symbols to convey a powerful message. The central portrait, naturally, was of King George VI, with a crown above his head, reasserting the power of the British Empire. Below this was the mythical phoenix bird, which died in flames and was reborn from the ashes, symbolising the colony’s recovery from disaster. A ribbon below the bird bore the word ‘Resurgo’ (Latin for ‘arise’), and the dates ‘1941’ and ‘1945’ recalling the period of the Japanese occupation. The name of the colony appeared in English at the top, while Lions of England held shields that gave the name in Chinese characters.
On each side of the stamps are vertical tablets bearing Chinese inscriptions. There are varying literal interpretations of these phrases, but the general sense is clear: on the left it says ‘China and Britain perpetually at peace’, and on the right ‘The phoenix revives: great good fortune’.
The original artwork contained an error in the calligraphy here, but this was spotted by a Chinese naval officer on board the British warship taking Wynne-Jones to the UK, and corrected before the stamps were issued.
A small detail that is easy to overlook is the two bats in flight at the sides of the oval frame surrounding the King’s head. To the Chinese, the bat is regarded as a symbol of good fortune and longevity.
W. E. Jones’s original crayon drawing now resides in the Royal Philatelic Collection. On this, the date given on the ribbon for the end of the occupation is ‘1944’ rather than ‘1945’. It’s the only major element of Wynne-Jones’s thinking that failed to come to reality.