Qilin – a Mythical Animal in Chinese or ‘Kirin’ in Japanese

It “is a specific type of the lin mythological family of one-horned beasts”, resembling a unicorn. It looks like a “hooved chimerical creature [mostly represented] in Chinese and other East Asian cultures”. It “is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler”. The qilin has thus symbolized good and wise governance of a country.

The earliest records with references to the qilin date back to the fifth century BC. The Chinese emperor Wu of Han (157-87 BC.) is believed to have captured a live qilin in 122 BC. Yet the contemporary historian, Sima Qian (ca. 145 – 86 BC.) expressed his skepticism concerning that account. Since then, the qilin has appeared “in a variety of subsequent Chinese works of history, [art] and fiction.

Qilin tomb guardian, fourth century. Placed in a tomb, a dragon provided a means to get to heaven. But ceramic dragons were also modeled in times of drought: “When the dragon appears, then wind and rain arise to escort him.” Photo by Anonymous author (China) – Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork (date not provided). Public domain. Colours intensified; image cropped. Photo and caption source: “Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

They have been described and depicted in art in various hybrid forms but always with a pair of horns or a horn, the single one or double. Most often, the quilin resemble Chinese dragons with an elongated body and with antlers. Yet, they may also look like a horned bull or a horse. Since the times of the Ming Dynasty (the fourteenth – the seventeenth centuries AD.), the quilin’s body became much more massive than before. It was often covered in fish or reptile scales, and was built of the components of a dragon, fish, and ox, with the pair of horns on top of its maned head.

Featured image: Plate with a qilin in the center, Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368 AD.). Photo by Rijksmuseum (not provided). CC0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.


“Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bwTqMf>. [Accessed 23rd February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 340. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *