Qilin, also named ‘Lin’, is an animal recorded in Chinese traditional books, together with phoenix, tortoise, and dragon, are called ‘the Four Mythical Animals’, being the mounts of gods and symbolizing auspicious signs.
The Qilin has, according to some sources, "the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse, a body covered with the scales of a fish, and a single horn." That’s the origin of the term "Chinese unicorn". It was in 1419 AD when Zheng He returned to Nanjing with a presented giraffe from the Malin Kingdom. As giraffe resembles the Chinese auspicious Qilin very much – it does have a head like a deer’s, a tail like an ox’s, hooves rather like a horse’s, a pattern on its body like scales, and two horns (but not one) – it was easy to consider the giraffe to be a Qilin. However, the Qilin is also often portrayed as having the antlers of a deer – this is a mix-up with the Chinese dragon (long), which does have antlers.
The Qilin supposedly is a benevolent creature that is only seen during the reign of a benevolent ruler – in the Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals), a Qilin is said to have been captured towards the end of Confucius’ life, and Han philosophers later reasoned that this was because Confucius was a benevolent "king without a throne".
In the long run of Chinese history, Qilin has beard deep culture meaning represented in many aspects of the folk life. For example, it’s believed that Qilin can bring children to the family, making the offspring flourishing under the benediction of the god; it can also be decorated in the ceiling of buildings or the house doors, to show the family’s nobility and to get rid of the evils. People often present Qilin lockers to the children to guard their lives especially at their births. In addition, things that are quite rare or hard to find can be also described in association with this animal, as the idiom goes like ‘phoenix’s feather and Qilin’s unicorn’; the kind of unique food is similar, as ‘Qilin’s liver, phoenix’s marrow’.