A southern style nian
in the lion, unicorn, and ox style of the Ming dynasty, similar to the qilin, with oxen feet, but with a single horn and lion's mane (this is not a Qilin)
A qilin, also spelled kylin (麒麟; pinyin: qi2 lin2; Cantonese: kay-lun; Hokkien: kee lin), is a mythical hooved Chinese creature that is said to appear in conjunction with the arrival of a sage. It is a good omen that brings Rui4 (瑞, roughly translated to 'serenity' and 'prosperity'). It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body. It is also known as a kirin in Japan.
The nature of the beast
Although it looks fearsome, the qilin only punishes sinners. It can walk on grass and yet not trample the blades and it can also walk on water. Being a peaceful creature, its diet does not include flesh.
There are variations in the appearance of the qilin, even as seen in a single country such as China, owing to cultural differences between dynasties.
Ming dynasty example
A qilin of the Qing dynasty – note the antlers, closer in style to the Japanese version (Kirin)
In the Ming dynasty of China (1368–1644) the qilin is represented as an oxen-hooved animal with a dragon-like head surmounted by a pair of horns and flame–like head ornaments.
A Qing dynasty example
The qilin of China's subsequent Manchurian dominated Qing dynasty (1644–1911) is a much more fanciful animal. Manchurian depictions of the qilin depict a creature with the head of a dragon, the antlers of a deer, the skin and scales of a fish, the hooves of an ox and tail of a lion.
In Japanese, the qilin is called a kirin. Japanese art tends to depict the qilin as more deer-like than in Chinese art. The word kirin has come to be used in modern Japanese for a giraffe.
Interestingly, in the Chinese hierarchy of mythological animals, the qilin is ranked as the second-most powerful creature after the dragon, but in Japan, the kirin occupies the top spot.
For other uses of the word "kirin" see the Kirin article.
Last updated: 05-01-2005 23:37:46