Qilin : The Chinese Unicorn !

Qilin : The Chinese Unicorn !

As we all know, the Unicorns have travelled to the four corners of the world and the different cultures of the globe have recognised their existence in different forms. Therefore, as they have inspired so many continents, you will not be surprised to learn of the existence of a Chinese Unicorn, the Qilin.
The Qilin is an ancient legend of China. ūüėä It bears no resemblance to the European Unicorn that we know, except that it has some characteristics in common with it.¬†Indeed, it too is an extraordinary creature endowed with many magical powers. ‚ú®

If the mythology and ancient history of China fascinates you, then you will see that the Qilin is a wonderful place to discover. In fact, it is important to know that China has a lot of¬†mythological beasts, as different from each other as they are.¬†Dragons and phoenixes¬†are among them, they are the most famous, but the Qilin is much less famous and yet it is a fascinating and beautiful being and really deserves a closer look. ūüßź


First of all, the Qilin is one of the¬†four noble animals of East Asia. Among these four animals are also the¬†phoenix, the dragon and the turtle. If you plan to visit China one day, with a bit of luck you will have the opportunity to see one of these four majestic creatures ! ūüėĀ

The Qilin : Its pronunciation

Looking at this word, "Qilin", it can seem complicated to pronounce, especially when the Chinese language is totally unknown to us! This is true, especially since we tend to pronounce the letter "Q" as "Que". I'm sure you pronounce the word "Qilin" as "Kiline". You're wrong ! ūü§≠ In Chinese, the "Q" is pronounced "Chee", like "Tchi" ! Come on, don't worry, we made the mistake too. For the second part of the word "Lin", it is pronounced "Lyn", but is pronounced "Line".

So, not so easy to pronounce the name of the mystical beast, isn't it ? ūüėČ However, we must admit that the pronunciation of the name makes a very beautiful and fantastic aspect, which finally fits well with this legendary creature.

The Qilin : Its History

What is this wonderful beast ? What does it look like ? A Qilin is a celestial creature that embodies the virtues of Chinese civilisation. Apparently he also protects these virtues on planet earth, using his magical powers to spiritually uplift good men wherever he finds them.¬†His name, "Qilin", is in fact the combination of the man, "Qi", and the woman, "Lin".¬†What is remarkable here is that this representation of both sexes is also one of the characteristics of the Unicorn we know. ūüôā

A mystical and legendary beast,¬†it is said that the Qilin dates back to 2697 B.C. It first appeared in the garden of the emperor of China, Hu√°ng D√¨. Qilins are considered to be¬†pacifist creatures, they would not harm a fly. ūüėÖ Which makes a big difference to the reputation of the Unicorns in Europe at that time ! Indeed, people thought that¬†Unicorns¬†were dangerous, powerful and fearsome creatures !

The Qilin first appeared in historical records with the Zuo Zhuan, or "Chronicle of Zuo", which describes the events in China from 722 to 468 BC. According to these archives, the first Chinese writing system was transcribed around 3000 BC from the inscriptions on the back of a Qilin. A Qilin is supposed to have announced the birth of Confucius, around 552 BC. The founder of the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, King Dongmyeong (r. 37-19 BC), rode a Qilin like a horse, according to legend.

Much later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), there is strong historical evidence of at least two Qilin in China in 1413. In fact, they were giraffes from the coasts of Somalia. The great admiral Zheng He brought them back to Beijing after his fourth voyage (1413-14). The giraffes were immediately proclaimed Qilin. Emperor Yongle was naturally very happy to see the symbol of wisdom appear during his reign, thanks to the treasure fleet.

Although traditional representations of the Qilin have a much shorter neck than that of any giraffe, the association between the two animals remains strong to this day. In Korea and Japan, the term "giraffe" is "kirin", or "qilin".

Throughout East Asia, the Qilin is one of the four noble animals, along with the dragon, phoenix and turtle. ūüźĘ¬†It is said that each Qilin lives for 2000 years¬†and can give birth to babies to deserving parents, much like storks in Europe.

Characteristics of the Qilin

Physical description

The Qilin are¬†extraordinarily beautiful creatures, sparkling like precious stones and adorned with flames. ūüĒ• With their scaly body and horned head, they look like¬†Chinese dragons, but their legs end in delicate¬†hooves, rather than the vicious legs of the dragon, and¬†their tail looks like a lion's instead of a snake's. ūüźć

No Qilin is exactly the same as another.¬†They each have their own ornaments¬†: carp whiskers, plumes of feathers, branched woods, precious metal scales, fire manes,¬†unicorn horns. ūü¶Ą Whatever their particular appeal, they always move gracefully and dazzle the mortals who see them.

qilin 2

Its magical powers

The Qilin are noble creatures who mingle with the gods of the sky. When they come down to earth, their pure spirits have a remarkable effect on the world around them. ūüĆé

First of all,¬†these celestial creatures are always able to distinguish between good men and evildoers. Naturally, they choose to associate only with the best of men, the kindest leaders and the wisest. They protect their homes, reward their good deeds with rich blessings and fill their hearts with happiness. ‚̧ԳŹ

Then¬†they have the gift of prophecy. Although they are rarely spoken and they make their predictions, they are¬†powerful omens of good fortune. ūüíį If you see one of these beautiful creatures, you can be sure that you will soon experience a great deal of good fortune or meet one of the great men they accompany !

Thirdly, these creatures can provide¬†transport to the skies. They have transported many great Chinese heroes, when they were still newborns, from heaven to earth and back to their destiny. Likewise,¬†they can escort the souls of noble men to heaven after their death. ūüíÄ

Finally, in rare cases, they¬†may attack criminals. Given their gentle nature, they will only attack if they sense an immediate threat to an innocent person. When they attack,¬†fire is their weapon of choice. Flames shoot out of their nose and mouth, incinerating the miscreant on the spot. ūüėĪ

The Buddhist tradition adds a further characteristic to their powers. Because of their extreme gentleness, they are afraid to walk on the grass for fear of hurting an innocent soul. To protect the grass, they make small clouds or water fountains appear and float just above the ground, instead of taking the risk of trampling on a life.

Cultural Representation of the Qilin


The wonderful Qilin was born from Chinese mythology. It is not known how long this chimera was loved by the Chinese before it made its debut in writing, in a 5th century B.C. story called Zhuo Zhan. Over the following centuries it continued to gain popularity, being passed down from dynasty to dynasty as a symbol of morality and prosperity. Like many other elements of Chinese culture, Qilin was also adopted by Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.

Famous Myths

The Qilin, with the dragon, the turtle and the phoenix, had the free reign of the gardens of the Yellow Emperor, who is considered the father of Chinese civilisation and the ancestor of all Chinese peoples. The presence of the creature in this magical garden symbolises both its antiquity and the nobility of the Yellow Emperor.

Later, the Qilin decided to honour Chinese civilisation with a¬†priceless gift. ūüéĀ At the time, the Emperor sat by the Yellow River, looking into its dirty waters. Suddenly, a wonderful hoofed creature appeared and touched the water, turning it into a delicious shade of bright green. The emperor was overjoyed, but the good creature had not finished with his gifts. He stepped on a rock, drawing the emperor's attention to himself, and then turned around to reveal a¬†set of magical symbols shining on his scales. These symbols laid the foundation for China's first written language.

Even later, a Qilin would have appeared just before the birth of Confucius. In this particular case, the magical monster totally broke its usual silence by offering a beautiful scroll, made of jade, to Confucius' very rich parents.

The scroll declared that the child would have all the virtues of an emperor and urged his parents to bring him up with care.

Usage moderne

Today, the Qilin is still revered as a¬†happy omen¬†and a¬†powerful guardian, so it has become a darling of the interior design industry. Countless¬†statues and paintings¬†of these gentle beasts are made and sold to Chinese people who want to bring its ancient magic into their homes. ūüŹ° They are particularly popular with¬†Feng Shui¬†practitioners, who use them both for their traditional benefits and as a symbol of the fire element, which can balance other elements in the home.

They are also a popular source of inspiration for ritual dances. Because they are associated with the sky and the gods, dancers who succeed in imitating them can bring great prosperity to their communities.

Creatures related to the Qilin

The Qilin are classified as one of the "four benevolent animals" in Chinese folklore. Each one of these incredible animals is viewed as the lord of a group of other species or races. The Qilin is the lord of the furry quadrupeds, the dragon is the lord of reptiles, the turtle is the lord of animals with shells and the phoenix is the lord of birds.

During the Ming Dynasty, in the 14th century AD, a journey was made to East Africa, and explorers returned with a pair of giraffes. The legendary Qilin was immediately linked to the giraffes, which the Chinese considered to be celestial beings. The great giraffes, in addition, have gradually and radically influenced the legendary animal.

The giraffe's tranquil nature, its vegetarian diet and its striking ability to walk in the grass without leaving footprints were all given to the Qilin. In Korea and Japan, both creatures still bear the same name today.


In Western culture, the Qilin are called "the Chinese Unicorn". Indeed, there are many similarities between the two beings. They are both described as pure and gentle spirits, who reveal themselves only to humans who have led an irreproachable existence: a pure heart and who have performed virtuous acts. In addition, they both have delicate hooves and, at times, a single beautiful horn.

The Qilin : In summary

It seems that according to Chinese culture, the Qilin have the image of a being even more powerful, beautiful and surprising than the European Unicorn. The two legendary animals have characteristics in common, but to different degrees. One of the most convincing examples is their kindness and peacefulness. Both have divine status and their symbolism is of paramount importance to Chinese history and culture.

It is hoped that the whole world will recognise the existence of the Qilin and respect them. It is always very interesting to learn about foreign cultures. Having studied the Qilin has allowed us to observe in a different way one of the most appreciated mythological creatures in the Western world. ūüėĆ

We then realise that many cultures of the world have developed legends of fabulous animals, be they griffins, centaurs or other creatures from Greek mythology such as Pegasus. Some are gentle and pure while others are reputed to be more ferocious and monstrous.¬†For our part, it is hoped that these legends will continue to flourish, spreading peace and joy, guiding us every time we walk on rough journeys. ūüėä

Madison Keys

As a writer by trade and passionate about the unicorn, I like to share my knowledge and offer advice to all those new to the field.

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