The qilin (English: /tʃiˈlɪn/ chee-LIN; Chinese: 麒麟) is a legendary hooved chimerical creature that appears in Chinese mythology, and is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler. Qilin are a specific type of the lin mythological family of one-horned beasts. The qilin also appears in the mythologies of other cultures, such as Japanese and Korean mythology, where it is known as the kirin, and Vietnamese mythology, where it is known as the kỳ lân.
|Similar entities||kirin, kỳ lân, gilen|
|First attested||5th century BCE|
|Vietnamese alphabet||kỳ lân|
Earliest mention of this mythical horned beast is in the poem 麟之趾; Lín zhī zhǐ; 'Feet of the Lin' included in the Classic of Poetry (11th – 7th c. BCE). Spring and Autumn Annals mentioned that a lin (麟) was captured in the 14th year of Duke Ai of Lu (魯哀公) (481 CE); Zuo Zhuan credited Confucius with identifying the lin as such.
The bisyllabic form qilin (麒麟 ~ 騏驎), which carries the same generic meaning as lin alone, is attested in works dated to the Warring States period (475 – 221 BCE). Qi denotes the male and lin denotes the female (e.g. in Shuowen Jiezi)
The legendary image of the qilin became associated with the image of the giraffe in the Ming dynasty. The identification of the qilin with giraffes began after Zheng He's 15th-century voyage to East Africa (landing, among other places, in modern-day Somalia). The Ming Dynasty bought giraffes from the Somali merchants along with zebras, incense, and various other exotic animals. Zheng He's fleet brought back two giraffes to Nanjing and they mistaken by the emperor for the mythical creature, with geri meaning giraffe in Somali. The identification of qilin with giraffes has had a lasting influence: even today, the same word is used for the mythical animal and the giraffe in both Korean and Japanese.
Axel Schuessler reconstructs 麒麟's Old Chinese pronunciation as *gərin. Finnish linguist Juha Janhunen tentatively compares *gərin to an etymon reconstructed as *kalimV, denoting "whale"; and represented in the language isolate Nivkh and four different language families Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic and Samoyedic, wherein *kalay(ә)ng means "whale" (in Nenets) and *kalVyǝ "mammoth" (in Enets and Nganasan). As even aborigines "vaguely familiar with the underlying real animals" often confuse the whale, mammoth, and unicorn: they conceptualized the mammoth and whale as aquatic, as well as the mammoth and unicorn possessing a single horn; for inland populations, the extant whale "remains ... an abstraction, in this respect being no different from the extinct mammoth or the truly mythical unicorn." However, Janhunen cautiously remarks that "[t]he formal and semantic similarity between *kilin < *gilin ~ *gïlin 'unicorn' and *kalimV 'whale' (but also Samoyedic *kalay- 'mammoth') is sufficient to support, though perhaps not confirm, the hypothesis of an etymological connection", and also notes a possible connection between Old Chinese and Mongolian (*)kers ~ (*)keris ~ (*)kiris "rhinoceros" (Khalkha: хирс).
Qilin generally have Chinese dragon-like features: similar heads with antlers, eyes with thick eyelashes, manes that always flow upward, and beards. The body is fully or partially scaled and often shaped like an ox, deer, or horse. They are always shown with cloven hooves. While dragons in China (and thus qilin) are also most commonly depicted as golden, qilin may be of any color or even various colors, and can be depicted as bejeweled or exhibiting a jewel-like brilliance.
The qilin is depicted throughout a wide range of Chinese art, sometimes with parts of their bodies on fire.
Legends tell that qilin have appeared in the garden of the legendary Yellow Emperor and in the capital of Emperor Yao; both events bore testimony to the benevolent nature of the rulers. It has also been told that the birth of the great sage Confucius was foretold by the arrival of a qilin.
Qilin as unicornsEdit
In modern times, the depictions of qilin have often fused with the Western concept of unicorns. Qilin (麒麟) is often translated into English as "unicorn", and can sometimes be depicted as having a single horn – although this is misleading, as qilin may also be depicted as having two horns, and a separate word, "one-horned beast" (独角兽; 獨角獸; Dújiǎoshòu) is used in modern Chinese for "unicorns". A number of different Chinese mythical creatures can be depicted with a single horn, and a qilin, even if depicted with one horn, would be called a "one-horned qilin" in Chinese, not a "unicorn".
Nevertheless, the mythical and etymological connections between the creatures have been noted by various cultural studies and even the Chinese government, which has minted silver, gold, and platinum commemorative coins depicting both archetypal creatures.
Other cultural representationsEdit
Kirin, which has also come to be used as the modern Japanese word for a giraffe, are similar to qilin. Japanese art tends to depict the kirin as more deer-like than in Chinese art. Alternatively, it is depicted as a dragon shaped like a deer, but with an ox's tail instead of a lion's tail. They are also often portrayed as partially unicorn-like in appearance, but with a backwards curving horn.
Girin or kirin (기린) is the Korean form of qilin. It is described as a maned creature with the torso of a deer, an ox tail with the hooves of a horse. The girin were initially depicted as more deer-like, however over time they have transformed into more horse-like. They were one of the four divine creatures along with the dragon, phoenix and turtle. Girin were extensively used in Korean royal and Buddhist arts.
In modern Korean, the term "girin" is used for "giraffe".
In Thailand, the qilin is known as "gilen" (Thai: กิเลน), and is a member of the pantheon of Thai Himapant forest mythical animals. It is most probable that the Gilen was introduced into the pantheon under the influence of the Tai Yai who came down from Southern China to settle in Siam in ancient times, and the legend was probably incorporated into the Himapant legends of Siam in this manner. The Gilen is a mixture of various animals, which come from differing elemental environments, representing elemental magical forces present within each personified creature. Many of the Himapant animals actually represent gods and devas of the Celestial Realms, and bodhisattvas, who manifest as personifications which represent the true nature of each creature deity through the symbolism of the various body parts amalgamated into the design of the Mythical creature.
In Phra Aphai Mani, the masterpiece epic poem of Sunthorn Phu, a renowned poet of the 18th century. There is a monster that is Sudsakorn's steed, one of the main characters in the epic. This creature was called "Ma Nin Mangkorn" (Thai: ม้านิลมังกร, "ceylonite dragon horse"), it is depicted as it has diamond fangs, ceylonite scales, and a birthmark on the tongue. It was a mixture of horse, dragon, deer antlers, fish scales, and Phaya Nak tail, with has black sequins all over. Its appearance resembles a qilin.
A Ming-era painting of a tribute giraffe, which was thought to be a qilin by court officials, from Bengal
Plate with a qilin in the center, Yuan dynasty
Embroidered qilin, Qing dynasty
Kỳ Lân statues, Bat Trang kiln, Hanoi, Nguyen dynasty, crackle glaze ceramics – at the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi, Vietnam
The logo of Kirin Beer features a kirin (photo taken in Hiroshima, Japan)
- Chinese dragon
- Chinese spiritual world concepts
- Four Holy Beasts
- Poubi Lai
- Questing Beast
- Shaanxi Kylins
- Sudsakorn (involving a similar creature that aided the protagonist, known as Mar Nin Mang Korn)
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- ^ Classic of Poetry "Airs of Zhou and the South – Lin's Feet" translated by James Legge
- ^ Durrant, Li, & Schaberg (translators) (2016). Zuo tradition: Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press. p. 1920, n. 292. quote: "It is significant that the earliest source known to mention the lin itself is “Lin zhi zhi” 麟之趾, or “The Foot of the Lin"
- ^ 古建上的主要装饰纹样――麒麟 古建园林技术－作者:徐华铛 Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ Zuozhuan "Duke Ai – 14th year – jing & zhuan"'
- ^ Durrant, Li, & Schaberg (translators) (2016). Zuo tradition: Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals. pp. 1919–1921
- ^ (2021). "Culture | Four mythical animals in Chinese culture". Publisher: CGTN; quote: "The Four Auspicious Beasts [四灵; 四靈; sì líng: qilin, long, bixi, fenghuang.] are also said to be the rulers of all the other animals. The first known mention of them dates from the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC)." Cf. Book of Rites "Li Yun 23" quote: "麟鳳龜龍，謂之四靈。"
- ^ ChinaKnowledge.de
- ^ SWJZ Radical 鹿" quote: "麟：大牝鹿也。……麒：仁獸也。麋身牛尾，一角。……麐：牝麒也。" translation: "Lín (麟): a large female deer. [...] Qí (麒): a humane beast. With elaphure's body, ox's tail, and one horn. [...] Lín (麐): female qí."
- ^ Parker, Jeannie Thomas (2018) The Mythic Chinese unicorn. Victoria: Friesen Press. p. 44
- ^ 此“麟”非彼“麟”专家称萨摩麟并非传说中麒麟
- ^ 傳說中的聖獸—麒麟[permanent dead link]
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- ^ Wilson, Samuel M. (December 1992). "The Emperor's Giraffe". Natural History. Vol. 101, no. 12. pp. 22–25. Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- ^ 傳世麒麟圖考察初稿 張之傑[permanent dead link]
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- ^ "Charger with a qilin, anonymous, c. 1350". Rijksmuseum. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
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- ^ a b Bush, Susan (2016). "CHAPTER 2 Labeling the Creatures: Some Problems in Han and Six Dynasties Iconography". The Zoomorphic Imagination in Chinese Art and Culture. University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 9780824872564.
- ^ Yoshida, Masako (2014). "Trade Stories: Chinese Export Embroideries in the Metropolitan Museum". Metropolitan Museum Journal. 49 (1): 4–5. doi:10.1086/680031. JSTOR 10.1086/680031. S2CID 192217718 – via JSTOR.
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- ^ 기린 : 네이버캐스트
- ^ "Taep Payatorn Riding Qilin Himapant Lion Hlang Yant – Nuea Pong Maha Sanaeh Luan – Ajarn Warut – Wat Pong Wonaram". Buddha Magic Multimedia & Publications. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
- ^ Pralongchoeng, Gilen (20 September 2014). "ม้ามังกร" [Dragon horse]. Thai Rath (in Thai). Retrieved 7 August 2021.
- Media related to Qilin at Wikimedia Commons