Qilin, The Chinese Unicorn

Qilin, The Chinese Unicorn

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As we know, many types of unicorns have existed across the globe and through the ages. One of them is very surprising in many ways: it is the Chinese unicorn, the Qilin. This word seems far-fetched, and yet this creature is indeed real  !

1) Chinese Mythology: The Qilin

This extraordinary mythical animal is full of powers all more incredible than the others. And yet, it looks nothing like the traditional unicorns such as the white unicorn as pictured on this Unicorn Bedding Cover Lying in the Grass or even the Black Unicorn.

Qilin : The Chinese Unicorn

If you’re interested in Chinese mythology and history, then it’s worth looking into where the Qilin came from! China is full of fantastic creatures. Some of them are very popular, like the dragon, the phoenix, the turtle, and of course the Chinese unicorn. These four beasts are actually the four sacred animals of East Asia! “Qilin” is pronounced “Tchi Line”.

In China the Qilin is a mythical beast of virtues. It belongs to Chinese mythology, and etymologically means “Male (Qi) – Female (Lin)”. It is therefore a representation of the combination of male and female. It has common points with the traditional white unicorn: this can be seen by studying the History and Legend of the Unicorn.

2) What is a Qilin?

It is said that the Qilin appeared in 2697 BC, in the garden of the legendary Yellow Emperor of China, Huangdi. They are among the nicest animals on the planet. They never attack birds or other animals. This is one of the differences with European unicorns: the latter, although virtuous and gentle, were also considered powerful and dangerous creatures.

So much so that in some representations of Chinese unicorns, they would not walk on grass for fear of hurting innocent plants and insects. They prefer to invoke water fountains or clouds, and transport themselves on them!

Nice indeed, but the Qilin is not defenseless. It is capable of spitting fire, and will not hesitate to use it to protect innocent beings from evil creatures. Like European unicorns, the Qilin knows how to recognize goodness of soul. Only the pure of heart are able to see a Qilin.

3) What does the Chinese Unicorn look like?

For those who have never seen one, the Qilin has a very strange appearance, totally different from the white unicorn. There are several descriptions of it but it is usually depicted as a creature vaguely reminiscent of the Chinese dragon (a famous monster found in New Year parades), with four legs. It also has a body encrusted with beautiful gems.

Of course, in some descriptions, it has a horn on the middle of the forehead, like the European unicorns: hence its nickname of Chinese unicorn. It is sometimes depicted with two horns. In other cases, it is shown with antlers.

The Qilin usually has a dragon or tiger head. Its body is similar to that of a deer, and it carries an ox tail or a serpentine tail. Some Qilins have special features like carp whiskers, feathers, shiny scales, or a mane of fire.

The European unicorn has a special place in our hearts, but we can’t help but admire the originality of the Qilin because of the mix of animals it represents.

4) The Powers of the Chinese Unicorn

Now comes the question that everyone is asking: what is a Qilin capable of? The powers that the Chinese believe it possesses explain why it is compared with the European unicorn. We already know that both have a nice, calm temperature, but the Qilin has special powers  which have played a major role in its mythology!

Qilins are often associated with the birth of great leaders or important personalities, like Confucius the Wise in the 6th century BC. Indeed, it is said that his mother saw a Qilin who spat out a jade tablet predicting the birth of the baby. Another Qilin was seen at the death of Confucius, when he was injured by a cart driver.

Qilins appear only to people who have a pure heart and a great destiny. Their coming is a sign of good luck. It was said that the Chinese unicorn only appeared during the reign of a great ruler. The fact that they are associated with benevolent people makes them similar to their European cousins. Indeed, only virgin girls and benevolent people can have the chance to meet them.

Qilins also have the power to predict when a person will have an extraordinary life or destiny. Seeing one is an incredible good luck charm  and sometimes even a sign of future prosperity for an entire country. It seems that Chinese mythology considers them more powerful than European unicorns, but both are a sign of luck and are extremely rare.

In reality, Chinese unicorns are only on Earth at certain times. Most of the time, they are in the realm of the gods! They can bridge the gap between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and are reputed to have carried the greatest Chinese heroes from heaven to earth. The most noble souls are also entitled, at their death, to be transported from earth to heaven! Again we see the relationship with the European unicorn, which can cross both worlds, and by the meaning of dreams with unicorns. Even if they rarely have a connection with the afterlife.

In short, the Qilins announce future leaders or people with extraordinary destinies, know how to predict the future, bring luck and happiness, and ensure the passage between life and death. It is easy to understand why they are so adored by the Chinese people  !

5) The Qilin Giraffe

There are legends mentioning the similarities between the giraffe and the Qilin. In the 15th century, Emperor Yongle (a Ming emperor) brought back two giraffes from his trip to East Africa. He said that these two creatures were related to the Qilin and their magic, and that their presence proved that he was a great ruler. In another version of this story, it is said that the same Emperor was given a giraffe and told that it was a Qilin! But the emperor saw the trick and proclaimed that it was not a Qilin.

Whatever the truth, it is true that the giraffe resembles the Chinese unicorn in some ways. For example, both are gentle and calm vegetarians, with very notable physical features. So much so that in Japan, the same word is used to designate both (“Girin” for giraffe, “Kirin” for Qilin)!

6) The Qilin Dance

The Qilin has given birth to a dance in China! It looks like the lion dance, which you probably know. Its movements are a little different. The world is becoming more interested in China and its culture, so maybe the Qilin Dance will become more popular !

To perform it, you need two dancers for each Qilin, and perfect coordination! It is characterized by wide movements of the Qilin head, which is very heavy. The dancer under the head must therefore have an excellent level, as shown in the video.

It is usually accompanied by traditional music and beautiful multicolored costumes as we are used to see in the Chinese culture. It is difficult to perform as you can see. Some people call it the unicorn dance. We would like to see it everywhere in the world!

To summarize, the Chinese unicorn is in some way the equivalent of the European unicorn, but with the same characteristics but pushed to the extreme! More powerful, more beautiful, but also nicer (she is afraid to damage the grass!). She is almost the equal of the gods in Chinese culture, and has taken a very great importance in Chinese history. Let’s hope that the world will learn to know and respect the Qilin as much as our white unicorn!

In any case, the Chinese unicorn will have allowed us to take another look at mythical creatures. The fact that a people revere such a kind and noble creature is encouraging! As long as Qilins and unicorns exist, they will continue to spread peace, joy, and help us in times of trouble!


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