Kids' Animal Station

For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals

Anatomy of A Monster: The Qilin

When I began to do research on the Qilin, I was immediately skeptical of articles that popped up about the mythical beast, calling it “the Chinese Unicorn.” Besides being a lazy way to describe a legend with its own cultural history, it also isn’t particularly accurate. Although described as having a single horn upon the crown of its head, the Qilin doesn’t have the body of a horse as you’d expect for a supposed “Unicorn.” In Chinese legend, the Qilin often appeared with the birth or death of an emperor or sage–the first sighting was in the garden of the Yellow Emperor in 2697 BCE. Another popular story featuring the Qilin indicates this benevolent enchanter appearing to the mother of Confucius, foretelling the birth of the great sage and philosopher. However, the Qilin is characterized by an incredibly gentle and peaceful disposition, not even disturbing vegetation or grass. Interestingly enough, name of the Qilin is a combination of the Chinese characters for male (Qi) and female (Lin)–this is merely speculative but is there some sort of relationship between the Qilin, Yin and Yang, and the harmony between the sexes in Chinese philosophy here?

A Real Life Qilin?!

Throughout Chinese legend, the Qilin has had various manifestations in terms of its makeup as a hybrid creature. Sometimes it’s described as more dragon-like than unicorn-like, with fish-like scales, cloven hooves, and the body of a deer, tiger, ox or dragon. Commonly, the Qilin also had deer antlers and a golden hide, although far from limited to a single color. It is one of the “Four Holy Beasts” of Chinese astronomical belief, each representing the four sections of China–the Dragon (East), the Qilin (West), the Turtle (North), and the Phoenix (South). Highly revered, the Qilin is particularly celebrated during the Lunar New Year, representing prosperity, peace, and protection. Despite its fearsome appearance, it is a defender of the good and uplifting justice. Truly beautiful!

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