In Chinese mythology, a kind of unicorn whose rare appearance often coincides with the imminent birth or death of a sage or illustrious ruler. Appearances could also indicate the benevolence of living emperors. A qilin has a single horn on its forehead, a yellow belly, a multicoloured back, a horse's hooves, a deer's body, and an ox's tail. Legend has it that a qilin appeared to the pregnant mother of Confucius.
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The Qilin also spelled Kylin, or Kirin (Japanese and Korean) is a mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creature known throughout various East Asian cultures, and is said to appear in conjunction with the arrival of a sage. It is a good omen that brings rui (roughly translated as "serenity" or "prosperity"). It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body.
The Qilin became a stylised representation of the giraffe in Ming dynasty. It is known that on Zheng He's voyage to East Africa (landing, among other places, in modern-day Kenya), the fleet brought back two giraffes to Beijing. It is also known that these two giraffes were referred to as "Qilins". The Emperor proclaimed the giraffes magical creatures, whose capture signalled the greatness of his power.
The identification between the Qilin and the giraffe is supported by some attributes of the Qilin, including its vegetarian and quiet nature. Its reputed ability to "walk on grass without disturbing it" may be related to the giraffe's long legs. Also the Qilin is described as having antlers like a deer and scales like a dragon or fish; since the giraffe has horn-like "ossicones" on its head and a tessellated coat pattern that looks like scales it is easy to draw an analogy between the two creatures.
It is unlikely that giraffes and qilin were regarded as the same creature in pre-modern times however. For example, typical depictions of the qilin have much shorter necks than giraffes. However, the Chinese character 麒 and 麟 both carry Chinese radical 鹿, suggesting that it was originally a type of deer, or perhaps an antelope.
Some stories state that the Qilin is a sacred pet (or familiar) of the deities. Therefore, in the hierarchy of dances performed by the Chinese (Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, Phoenix Dance, etc), the Qilin ranks highly; second only to the Dragon and Phoenix who are the highest.
In the Qilin Dance, movements are characterised by fast, powerful strokes of the head. Qilin Dance is often regarded as the hardest dance to perform due to the weight of the head, stances and the emphasis on "fǎ jìn" (Traditional Chinese - 法勁) - outbursts of strength/power/energy
In the Post-Qin Chinese hierarchy of mythological animals, the Qilin is ranked as the third most powerful creature (after the dragon and phoenix), but in Japan, the Kirin occupies the top spot. This is following the style of the ancient Chinese, as QiLin, before the Qin Dynasty, was ranked higher then the Dragon or Phoenix, in fact, during the Zhou Dynasty, the Dragon is the third, the Phoenix rank second.
In Ilkhanid and Timurid Mongol-Persian mythological miniatures, the buraq was portrayed in a style reminiscent of the Chinese qilin, reflecting the Chinese background of painters who introduced watercolor techniques to Iran and initiated several medieval schools of Persian miniature painting.
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