The qilin is one of the most auspicious mythical creatures seen in Chinese art, and is said to live for a thousand years. It is considered to be the noblest of all animals, and a symbol of goodness. The qilin has a dragon-like head, horns, the body of a horse and the hooves of an ox, although exact representations differ throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. The appearance of a qilin was said to have been the sign of a virtuous ruler. The depiction of a qilin with a book refers to the legend of the birth of Confucius, according to which a qilin arrived bearing books and announcing that it was a descendant of the water spirit.
A similar, though larger (22 cm.) jade figure of a qilin, also carrying books on its back supported on vapor emerging from its mouth, is in the Qing Court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - Jadeware III, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 114, no. 95, where it is dated to the Qianlong period. (fig.1).