The Qilin, or Kirin - The Spirit Of The Dragon Horse

Kirin, Qilin -

The Qilin, or Kirin - The Spirit Of The Dragon Horse

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A native of China, Qilin, sometimes called "Sibuxiang", is a legendary creature considered beneficial in Chinese folklore.

The Qilin (麒麟, pinyin: qílín), also known as the "dragon horse", is a fantastic animal from Chinese mythology and represents the equivalent of the unicorn in Western legends.


Associated with the element of the earth, Qilin reigns over furry animals. It resides mainly in peaceful places and is considered a benevolent being, a guarantee of peace and prosperity.

The myth of Qilin is very old and there are some references to its origin:

  • The first historical reference to Qilin would go back to writings in "Les chroniques de Zuo", written in the fourth century BC.
  • According to "Bamboo Annals", the oldest appearance of Qilin dates back to 2697 BC. This creature was born from the conjunction of two stars or a cross between a dragon and a bovine.
  • Another legend presents the Qilin as a stylized form of the giraffe during the Ming dynasty. Indeed, identification with the giraffe began after Zheng He's trip to East Africa. He brought back to the imperial court in Beijing two giraffes that were called Qilin by the emperor and considered magical creatures that testify to his greatness and power.

Representation of a Qilin under the Ming dynasty

In the literature, the Qilin is described as a composite animal with a deer body, horse hooves, oxtail, multicoloured coat and a single fleshy horn in the middle of the forehead.

The sculptures show the Qilin with a scale-covered body, ox's hooves and, unlike the writings, a pair of horns. Under the Ming dynasty, the Qilin appeared with a dragon's head, horns lying back and flames emanating from his mouth. However, under the Qing dynasty, the horns rise like the antlers of a deer and the chimera often has a goatee and a lion's tail.

Features and symbols

The Qilin is considered as a benevolent being of a calm and gentle nature Print representing a Qilin bringing a talented child
Print representing a Qilin bringing a talented child and survives on an exclusively vegetarian diet. It is said that the Qilin has a power that defies the laws of gravity and allows it to move on the grass without trampling it or even to walk on the surface of the water.

In ancient times, the Qilin was often seen with a child on his back. For this reason, it was considered a symbol of fertility in Chinese beliefs.

It is also said that the Qilin's home is in heavenly paradise where he represents a sacred animal guarded by the gods. His arrival on earth is therefore very rare and marks the advent of a prosperous era or the birth of an illustrious emperor or a great sage. Thus, according to legend, the birth of Confucius was preceded by the appearance of a Qilin in front of his mother. Similarly, the disappearance or death of this creature in a region was seen as a bad sign and a fatal omen to come.

In addition, the Qilin is a symbol of justice. Indeed, the latter's horn allows him to separate straight people from those with bad intentions. And although being a peaceful creature, the Qilin can spit flames in order to protect someone or punish a malicious person.

Qilin Popularity today

In modern times, the myth of the Qilin has not survived as well as that of the dragon or the phoenix, although statues representing it can still be seen in gardens, ancient palaces and temples.

Similarly, it is still a guarantee of longevity, happiness and wisdom, but this lack of current notoriety can be explained by its very ancient origin and its probable disappearance during Chinese antiquity.

Qilin also appears in Chinese astrology and feng shui as a sacred animal guardian of one of the four cardinal points next to the dragon, the phoenix and the turtle but is increasingly replaced by the tiger in this role. It is also represented in the Qilin dance which is performed during traditional celebrations or on Chinese New Year's Eve.

In addition, he remains well known in Japanese culture (under the name of Kirin) where he appears in some literary works as well as animes and video games inspiring several fictional characters.

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