The qilin is one of the animals mentioned in the Zhou dynasty Book of Rites, together with the dragon, phoenix and tortoise. It is a creature of good omen and symbol of longevity, felicity, illustrious offspring and wise administration. It supposedly has a fleshy horn on its forehead, a body like a horse and is covered with scales like fish.
The present figure is remarkable for its very large size and life-like posture. A 17th century bronze qilin censer, with related striated casting of the tail and scales on the chest, was included by Robert D. Mowry in the Catalogue of the Exhibition, China's Renaissance in Bronze, Phoenix Art Museum, 25 September - 30 January 1994, pp. 222-223, no. 58.
The depiction of such qilin with head turned back in a crouching posture may be found on Yuan dynasty ceramics. See the molded celadon dish illustrated by C. and M. Beurdeley, A Connoisseur's Guide to Chinese Ceramics, New York, San Francisco and London, 1974, p. 159, pl. 47. The same depiction may be found on blue and white porcelain of the same period, including large guan jars such as the one illustrated by Geng Baochang, Ming Qing Ciqi Jianding, Hong Kong, 1993, p. 77, fig. 127, and large dishes such as the one illustrated in the Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, New York, n.d., p.69.