Qilin — Mythical Creature of Benevolence, Strength, and Auspiciousness 

Qilin Painted by Yu Sheng and Zhang Weibang of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Qilin Painted by Yu Sheng and Zhang Weibang of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum

What is the origin of Qilin?

 

Qilin has been an auspicious creature the moment it was documented, for its close connection to sage Confucius (about 551 BC — 479 BC). 

 

One day, a Qilin came to a family's yard and spit out a jade tablet, saying "Son of God of Water, A Remarkable King But Without A Throne".

 

The next day, a baby boy was born into this family, who later grew up into Confucius, a great educationist and philosopher, and founder of Confucianism.

 
Jade Decoration of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) Based on Story of Qilin Spitting of Jade Book

Jade Decoration of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) Based on Story of Qilin Spitting of Jade Book — Palace Museum

In Shijing (Classic of Poetry or Book of Songs), the first poetry collection in China that was compiled by Confucius, Qilin was documented as a righteous, kind-hearted mythical creature, and was used to represent talented and virtuous nobles. 

 

In the year 481 BC, the king of the state that Confucius was living hurt and captured a beast, which later was identified as a Qilin, the auspicious creature that only appeared in peaceful and prosperous places. 

 

Unfortunately, this Qilin died soon, which in Confucius' opinion, an omen of an upcoming chaotic, unstable era. 

 

He wept and wrote a eulogy for this Qilin, stopped writing books, and passed away two years later.

Image of Qilin on Blue and White Porcelain Jar of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368)

Image of Qilin on Blue and White Porcelain Jar of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

What is the relationship between Qilin and Chinese Dragon?

 

In regard to the connection of Qilin and Chinese Dragon, there are some different versions:

 

 

 

  • Qilin is the kid of a dragon and a cattle.

 
Images of Qilin Carved on Stone Fence of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368)

Images of Qilin Carved on Stone Fence of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

What does a Qilin look like?

 

Qilin, Qi for male and Lin for female ones, has elk’s body, lion’s head, deer’s horns, tiger’s eyes, dragon's scales, cattle's hooves, and ox’s tail.

However, with strong hooves and sharp horns, Qilin has never trampled or attacked anyone and anything. 

 

Having lethal weapons and magic power, but Qilin always stays kind. 

 
Image of Qilin on Cloisonne Pitcher of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Image of Qilin on Cloisonne Pitcher of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — British Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

What does Qilin symbolize in Chinese culture?

 

Qilin appeared with sage Confucius, hence, it has been the auspicious representative of:

 

  • The mythical creature that can bring people with smart babies;

 

  • Representative of brilliant people;

 

  • Benevolence;

 

  • Power;

 

  • Flourishing and Peaceful;

 

  • Omen of Appearing of Sages.

 
 

How images of  Qilin have been used throughout history?

 

To honor: 

 

Qilin Court, a hall in the royal palace of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC — 8 AD), inside placed pictures of exceptional and contributive generals and ministers that were approved by emperors. 

 

Since then, Qilin Court or Qilin Ge has been representative of exceptional accomplishment and supreme honor.

Qilin Hoof Shape Golds of the Western Han Dynasty

Qilin Hoof Shape Golds of the Western Han Dynasty, Made Under Command of Emperor Wu of Han (156 BC — 87 BC) to Memorize Encountering of A Qilin During His Hunting and to Award Nobles and Contributive Officials — Nanchang Relic Museum for Haihun Principality of Han Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)

To guard:

 

In front of buildings, Qilin statues are widely used to exorcise evil spirits, protect, and bring people living inside with good luck. 

Gilt Bronze Qilin in Front of Cining Gate of Forbidden City

Gilt Bronze Qilin in Front of Cining Gate of Forbidden City

To show power and authority:

 

In Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912), Qilin was the pattern for the highest-ranked military officials to be embroidered on their clothes (in Chinese is Buzi). 

 

Click to Read More About Hierarchical Clothing Patterns of Officials

Qilin Buzi on First Rank Military Officer of Reign Period of Yongzheng Emperor (1722 — 1735)

Qilin Buzi on First Rank Military Officer of Reign Period of Yongzheng Emperor (1722 — 1735) — The Metropolitan Museum of Art

To pray for good luck:

 

Qilin Dance, from a royal performance to a civilians' celebration, has been a traditional dance in important festivals to pray for good harvests and happy lives.  

To pray for healthy and smart babies:

 

Qilin's images, embroidered on clothes, painted on pictures, made into amulets, which are given to women and kids to wear, have been a popular tradition in Chinese culture, to pray for healthy babies, and for kids to grow into brilliant and strong people. 

Qilin Carved on Gilt Silver Belt Decoration of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)

Qilin Carved on Gilt Silver Belt Decoration of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) — Haidian Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

How Qilin is used in Fengshui?

 

As a kindhearted and powerful creature, Qilin's statues have been widely used for Fengshui purposes and believed can bring people fortune, wealth, luck, kids, and success. 

 

However, the placement of their statues usually follows certain rules:

 

  • A pair of Qilin should be placed together;

 

  • Statues of Qilin usually should face the door;

 

  • Qilin in the front gate is for good luck and protection, in study desk for success and career, in the bedroom for healthy and smart babies;

 

  • Exact positions differ based on people's birth dates and hours;

 

  • Qilin would only protect kind people, those evildoers or people in illegal business should not place Qilin, or else they would be punished. 

 
Qilin Shape Cloisonne Incense Burner of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum

Qilin Shape Cloisonne Incense Burner of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum