Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Qilin


Virtually unheard of in America, the Qilin is an auspicious creature found in folktales across China. Although a very documented and evident mythical creature within China, the language barrier makes researching the Qilin a difficult task. In addition to the language barrier, spelling differentiation also presented a problem in this research.
To start, I had borrowed a book, Chinese Mythology by Anthony Christie, from the library. While browsing through the index, I found a section entitled “The Miraculous Chhi-lin.” The Chhi-lin is a creature with the body of a deer, an oxen tail, hooves, and a single horn. According to the story, this animal is a symbol of justice. Because of this, the Chhi-lin would only hurt the wrong and never harm those that had goodness in their hearts. The Chhi-lin is said to have the ability to fight but have the restraint to never hurt a living creature.When I attempted to find another source regarding this creature, I found endless dead ends. 
Shortly after, it was brought to my attention that most of the sources I was reading for information were interpretations of Chinese culture brought by visiting cultures. The Chinese pronunciation of the word for Chhi-lin could be phonetically different based on the writing systems of another culture. For example, in Japan the word is spelled and pronounced Kirin. Through this, I found the Qilin is another, more frequently used and more current of a spelling to refer to this creature. Qilin comes from a Pinyin romanization of the word.
Next, I was able to find a few supporting sources to help with my studies. The other sources named the Qilin as a symbol of wisdom and harmony. The creature appeared during the lives of just emperors. In fact, Qilin sitings were helpful to emperors because they acted as evidence that the emperor possessed the Mandate of Heaven. Simply put, the Mandate of Heaven is a philosophy indicating that the ruler was given the right to rule from a divine being. During traditional times, people in China looked towards the Mandate of Heaven as a sign that the ruler is legitimate. The Mandate of Heaven is not as relevant in contemporary society as it was before. Nevertheless, the concept is still used in political criticisms now, even if the Qilin is no longer linked.
This sacred animal also has a strong connotation with fertility. With a direct linkage to various fertility goddesses in Chinese culture, the Qilin’s presence in temples across Xiamen, China indicates that people would look towards depictions of the Qilin to bring children. In China though, fertility has a different meaning than in American culture. A wish for fertility in China is not only for the birth of a child, but for a male child with good morals and the intelligence to bring wealth and success to the family. Therefore, the Qilin inspires good morals and studiousness. Also, another prominent symbolism of the Qilin in more recent culture involves the military. The Late Qing Dynasty, which is the years 1662 to 1911, used the Qilin as the symbol for first grade military officials of the Imperial Court.
The symbolism described above is prominent and well documented. In addition to these meanings, a few stories exist that act as an elaboration on the full story of the Qilin. A myth exists in which the Qilin's horn is burned in order to see the future. In addition, the Qilin was also a confusing figure in China when a traveller brought a giraffe to a Chinese emperor as a gift. Years after this occurred, the image of a Qilin and giraffe were still mixed in historical and cultural records. This is historically and culturally relevant because the giraffe and Qilin became linked by the common word used to name them. The confusion speaks to the idea that the Chinese people had at the time about the Qilin.  
With the new sources and new symbolism came a complicating factor to the myth. A constantly changing society makes a static imagery and symbolic meaning related to the Qilin very hard to find. In Chinese history, each dynasty possesses a different view of the creature. As seen in the pictures attached to the blog, some depictions of the Qilin are consistent with regularly seen depictions that feature the body of a deer, tail of an oxen, horse hooves, and a single horn description. Since late imperial and modern times, images convey the Qilin with a scaly, more dragon-like body. Depictions of the Qilin in the Forbidden City are consistent with this different imagery. In addition, the statues and paintings incorporate imagery that hint to the Qilin’s ability to fly. Pictured with clouds and bursts of air trailing behind the hooves of the Qilin, the imagery suggests that the Qilin is unworldly.
Ultimately, the Qilin is a mythical creature with deep resonance in Chinese culture. In fact, the Qilin can be directly compared to a creature such as the unicorn in American culture. Both are legendary and intertwined in present day culture. In addition, both are creatures that are associated with purity and harmony. With this link in mind, an understanding of the Qilin is easier to grasp. 

The pictures attached to this blog are both examples of the Qilin imagery in temples in Xiamen, China. The first picture is a Qilin with a scaly, dragon type body. The head of the creature is very much like a dragon as well. This Qilin is spitting a book. This story is linked to a myth that before the birth of Confucius, a Qilin appeared spitting up a book.  The book prophesied a man with the ability to be a king would be born but he would not become a king. This symbolically links to fertility because this became attached to the birth of a wise sons. The prayers for fertility, as stated before, are for sons that will grow to be intelligent and prosperous men. The Qilin in the second picture is shown amongst clouds, solidifying the creature's auspicious and mythological labeling.





Christie, Anthony. Chinese Mythology. Verona: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1968. 130-132. Print.

Duda, Margaret. "Qing Dynasty Silver Qilins." Ornament. 23.1 36-41. Web. 10 Sep. 2012.

Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. New York: Routledge, 1986. 79. Print.

Jones, Lindsay. "Politics And Religion: Politics And Chinese Religion ." Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd Edition. 11. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 7266-7270. Print.

Walters, Derek. Chinese Mythology: An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend. San Francisco: The Aquarian Press, 1992. Print.

Watt, James. "The Giraffe as the Mythical Qilin in Chinese Art: A Painting and a Rank Badge in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal. 43. (2008): 111-115. Print. 

Williams, C.A.S. Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives. 3rd Edition. 1983. Print.


Welch, Patricia. Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery. 1st Ed. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2008. Print.



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