here is an ancient Chinese myth which explains the creation of the universe. In the beginning, the universe was merely an egg. Heaven and earth were not separate. The stars and the planets were one. But when the egg of the universe cracked, Chaos spilled out. Heaven and earth separated and the stars and planets split.
Into this chaos came P'an Ku, the first god/human. It took him 18,000 years to create the present universe and earth. He was assisted in this work of creation by the four most fortunate animals--the dragon, the phoenix, the tortoise and the unicorn. When P'an Ku's work was completed, he died. The dragon swan into the seas. The tortoise crawled into the swampy wetlands. The phoenix rose into the sky and flew to the open lands.
The unicorn galloped into the green forests. These four sacred animals became the guardians of the hidden realms upon the earth and those places beyond, where their strength is undiminished by contact with humans.
| The Ki'lin (pronounced chee-lin) often attains the age of a thousand years, and it is the noblest form of animal creation, the emblem of perfect good.” |
-Buddhist scholar, 2 AD
here were actually six breeds of Chinese unicorns: the King, the Kioh Twan, the Poh, the Hiai Chai, the Too Jon Sheu, and the Ki'lin. It is possible, however, that these unicorns all originally were descended from a progenitor unicorn. For simplicity, I will primarily be talking about the Ki'lin.
The celestial Ki'lin, is an intelligent forest unicorn in Chinese mythology. It was not native to China, and was said to come from a distant place and was always considered mythical. Luckily, for the Ki'lin, they were never valued for their body parts and were never hunted.
The appearance of the Ki'lin varies greatly depending on region and sex. It is a hybrid animal with the body of a deer, the head of a lion or wolf, green or gold scales and a 12 foot long curved horn or antler coated in skin.
The ki'lin was described as having fur or scales that were red, yellow, blue, white and black which were the five Chinese sacred colors. It had a deep, melodious bell-like call. Like its European counterpart, the Ki'lin was solitary, and the females were never seen as only the males were seen.
As in European mythology, the Ki'lin had ties to fertility and fortune. The Ki'lin would carry and distribute babies according to the will of the Chinese gods. Mothers-to-be would hang pictures of Ki'lin on their walls to encourage the birth of great men. They were only seen on rare, special occasions and often heralded the birth of a great emperor. Their appearance was a joyous occasion and if they showed themselves to the emperor, it meant that emperor would have a peaceful reign.
As Buddhism became more popular in China, the Ki'lin adopted many of their traditions. This is why the Ki'lin refused to eat any living thing, animal or vegetable. When it walked, it lifted up each divine hoof to peer underneath and make sure that the Ki'lin didn't tread on any animal or plant. The Ki'lin also grew a fleshy tip over its horn so that it could never be used to hurt a living creature. If the Ki'lin were to strike something with its soft, blunted horn, it would hurt the Ki'lin terribly.
The Ki'lin is one of the four sacred animals who assisted P'an Ku in the creation of the universe. The sacred animals were the four most fortunate animals--the dragon, the phoenix, the tortoise and the unicorn. They eventually became guardians of the sacred realms and left the realm of man.