The qilin is the Chinese version of the unicorn, with a number of similar creatures including the kirin appearing in the mythology of other Asian cultures. The appearance of a qilin is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity, and you often see depictions of qilins worked into various clothing designs and works of art to convey fortune on the purchaser. Qilins are also depicted in a stylized dance known as a qilin or unicorn dance which involves feats of physical strength and dexterity on the part of the dancers.
The appearance of the qilin is a subject for debate. Most depictions involve a hodge-podge of animal parts, giving the qilin the scales of a carp, the hooves of an ox, the tail of a lion, and the head of a dragon, for example. In many depictions, the qilin has two horns, rather than one, and the horns may lie flat against the animal's head, rather than sticking out. Qilins are closely associated with fire, which they supposedly use to defend the righteous.
A qilin will only appear in an area which is controlled by a just, wise, and benevolent leader, and qilins are closely linked with sages and other wise people. According to the stories, qilins are very gentle, friendly animals, but they can become violent when they need to protect someone. In the course of protecting the righteous, a qilin may breathe fire, gore someone with its horn, or trample someone, making the qilin a useful friend to have at your back in a fight.
In most stories, the qilin is described as a very gentle, loving animal. According to the stories, qilins can walk on grass and flowers without causing harm, and they can also walk on water when they need to. The gentle animals eat a vegetarian diet, and conscientiously avoid injury to all living things. These traits are also regarded as virtues in some parts of Chinese society, so the qilin could also be said to be setting a virtuous example which others should follow.
For a brief period of time, the qilin was identified with the giraffe. This is probably because giraffes were quite novel to the Chinese when they were first brought to China, and giraffes are also naturally gentle, vegetarian animals with heads which do resemble those of some mythical qilin. The qilin is also associated with femininity, perhaps because it exhibits some classically feminine traits like gentleness.