Small pieces of brightly coloured cloth, including armbands, long have been used to symbolise a political affiliation. In the West, they often have ominous undertones due to their use by both fascist and communist groups in the past. Their meaning, though, can differ from culture to culture.
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The Nazi party was one of the most notorious users of red armbands, usually emblazoned with a swastika. These were popular with the military; they commonly were worn as a component of a dress uniform by officers and common soldiers. They were frequently worn by Nazi party officials at all levels of the party hierarchy. Germans also wore the red, swastika armband at political rallies to show support for the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.
Socialist and Communist Usage
Various communist, socialist and other leftist political groups frequently use the colour red as a motif and wear red armbands to symbolise their affiliation and show solidarity at rallies and meetings. The red armband as a communist device was especially brought into the public consciousness by People's Republic of China dictator Mao Zedong and his "Red Guard," a highly motivated and well-indoctrinated paramilitary organisation devoted to Chinese communism.
The red armband can have a very different connotation in Japanese culture than in that of many other countries. The leader of any group might wear a red armband, usually with the characters for the name of the organisation written on it, as a symbol of his authority. Due to cultural diffusion, the usage of the red armband by leftist political groups has spread to Japan as well.
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