The Chinese unicorn, The Qilin: creature of virtues

The Chinese unicorn, The Qilin: creature of virtues

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It is a well-established fact that unicorns have walked the earth, and many different cultures recognize them in one form or another. Their hooves have landed on several continents, and you may not be surprised to learn that there is a Chinese unicorn, the Qilin.

This word may sound like an attempt to cheat at Scrabble, but Qilin is an ancient and amazing legend of China . It is an extraordinary creature endowed with many powers and, unlike the European unicorn many of us are familiar with, though it shares some similar characteristics.

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Unicornio chino qilin

If you are interested in Chinese mythology and history, the Qilin is a wonderful thing to explore. China is full of vivid and unusual mythological creatures. Many of them are well known, such as dragons and phoenixes, but the Qilin is beautiful, interesting and deserves a lot of attention.

It is one of the four noble animals of East Asia, the phoenix, dragon and turtle make up the other three . If you ever have the opportunity to visit China, you may be lucky enough to see one in this beautiful country.

How do you pronounce Qilin?

At first, this particular word may be difficult to pronounce for those who do not know Chinese. In English, we tend to pronounce the letter "Q" as a rough "kwuh" sound or as "cue". Neither gives a very elegant word when followed by "ilin". In Qilin, however, the "Q" is pronounced "che", and one of the best ways to figure out how to say this word is to split it into two parts.

Unicornio chino el qilin

According to Wikipedia, the Qilin is a mythical creature that represents the virtues of China. It belongs to ancient Chinese mythology, and is a combination of "qi", male and female, "lin". It is interesting to note that this representation of male and female is also a characteristic of the European unicorn.

The Qilin is believed to date back to 2697 BC AD and to appear in the garden of the legendary Huangdi , the Yellow Emperor of China. Qilins are among the gentlest creatures on Earth and do not harm birds or beasts. Therefore, they differ from early European unicorns, because early European unicorns were considered dangerous, powerful, but always virtuous and, above all, gentle creatures.

In many depictions of the Qilin , it is afraid to walk on the grass for fear of harming innocent plants or insect life. Instead of letting its hooves touch the ground, it conjures up clouds or water fountains, and is carried on them.

However, the Qilin is not helpless; it is capable of producing fire , and if provoked by the need to protect an innocent being, like the black unicorn , it will attack evildoers. Like the European unicorn, it can distinguish innocence in people, and will only show itself to those who are pure enough.

What does a Qilin look like?

For those who are not familiar with it, the Qilin is quite strange and does not resemble the European unicorn at all. It differs slightly in its depictions, but is generally depicted as a four-legged creature. It resembles a Chinese dragon in some ways, and has a beautiful gem-encrusted body with horse hooves at the end of its legs.

Of course, in many descriptions it only has a single horn in the center of its forehead , which is probably one of the reasons it is related to the European unicorn in the first place. However, it is often depicted with two horns, and sometimes they resemble the antlers of a deer.

The Qilin often has the head of a dragon, the body of a tiger or a deer and a tail similar to that of an ox. Wikipedia, however, describes the tail as serpentine. It also mentions that all Qilins have individual peculiarities, such as feathers, carp-like whiskers, shiny scales and flaming manes.

While European unicorns will always have a special place in our hearts, the individuality of the Qilin and its mix of different animals is so creative and inventive that we can't help but love it. It looks like a mosaic of incredible creativity and inspiration, and seems to represent so many different creatures within its own being.

A Google image search for Qilin shows just how diverse, colorful and unique Qilins are.

The powers of a Qilin

el qilin

So, an important question: what is a Qilin actually doing? Perhaps the most important reason they are associated with the European unicorn is the powers with which the Chinese believed Qilins were endowed. We have already discussed a temperate temperament as a characteristic of both, but a Qilin has many powers and has played an important role in all sorts of mythologies and stories.

Britannica tells us that Qilins were often associated with the birth of great leaders or important people, such as the sage Confucius in the sixth century B.C.E.This was heralded by a Qilin appearing before his mother-to-be and spitting out a jade tablet that foretold his birth. It is also said that a Qilin foretold the death of the same sage when he was wounded by a wheelwright.

Qilins will appear only to those who are pure in soul and destined for greatness, and their appearance was a sign of good fortune and favor. Many believed that they would only appear under the reign of a great chief. Their association with people who are good is similar to that of European unicorns, which would only allow virgins or, in some stories, those of good character to approach them.

El qilin

Wikipedia states that the Qilins also had the gift of prophecy, which is related to their ability to predict adults. The sight of a unicorn, like that of a European unicorn, is a sign of incredible fortune and often impending joy for a country or an individual. They seem to be considered more powerful and unusual in Chinese mythology than European myths, but both are extremely fortunate and rarely seen.

Qilins can walk among the gods and only descend to Earth at certain times. It is for this reason that they can also allow passage between the two worlds, and that they often carried the greatest Chinese heroes from heaven when they were babies. They were also believed to accompany noble souls when they returned at the end of their lives. This may be related to the European unicorn's ability to travel from one world to another, and the common belief that it appears in dreams as a guide, but rarely in relation to the afterlife.

Obviously, the importance of the Qilin to the Chinese people cannot be overstated; they are heralds of greatness, have the power to predict the future, bring luck and happiness, and guide the passage from life to death.

The Qilin giraffe

emperador ming qilin

There are several different stories about the similarities between a giraffe and a Qilin. According to Ancient Origins, in the 15th century, a Ming emperor, Emperor Yongle , managed to bring back two giraffes from a trip to East Africa. He proclaimed that they were related to the magic of the Qilins, and that their presence proved his greatness as a leader.

In another version of the tale, Emperor Yongle received a giraffe as a gift from a "Qilin," but saw through the shift and proclaimed that they were not Qilins.

Whatever the true legend, it is clear that the giraffe had some satisfying similarities to the Qilin, including being a gentle vegetarian, very calm and having some very striking features. Obviously, some of the Qilin art is inspired by giraffes, and in Korean and Japanese the same word is used for giraffes and Qilins: "Girin" and "Kirin" respectively.

In a way, it seems that almost every creature on the planet has a relationship to unicorns, albeit sometimes a distant one. Have you ever associated a giraffe with the pure white horned equines we often see in the West? Before I learned of Qilin's existence, I certainly hadn't!

Qilin dance

qilin dance

In addition to all the other influences the Qilin had in China, it also provided a dance for the Hakka, one of the Chinese dialect groups, as the Ancient Origins says. It has similarities to the lion dance, with which it may be more familiar as the lion dance, but it stands out in some of its movements. As people around the world become more and more interested in the Chinese, their traditions and culture, the dance could become more famous.

According to ChinaTownology, the dance requires two performers for each Qilin, and requires good coordination between the two. It is characterized by powerful movements of the Qilin's head, which is often quite heavy, so the dancers must be competent and experienced.

qilin dance

If you are interested in seeing the Qilin dance, you can see it performed above, accompanied by wonderful traditional music and the beautiful colors that many of us associate with Chinese culture. As you can see, this is not easy to achieve! However, the best thing about it is that it is sometimes called the unicorn dance, and it is something we would love to see more of around the world!

To summarize the Qilins

It seems that in Chinese culture, Qilins represent a creature even more powerful, beautiful and amazing than the European unicorn. They share many of the same characteristics, but in extreme extremes, for example, their kindness in not even damaging the grass. They seem to have attained an almost divine status in Chinese traditions, and their symbolism is of immense importance to Chinese history and culture.

Hopefully more people around the world will come to know and respect Qilins as we all strive to become more inclusive and better informed about cultures other than our own. The Qilins offer us the opportunity to see one of the western world's most beloved mythological creatures from a different perspective.

It is heartening that so many cultures have developed legends of such a powerful, gentle and pure creature, and we hope that Qilins and unicorns can continue to exist, spreading peace and joy and guiding us as needed.


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