The qilin is a very auspicious creature as it is believed to live for a thousand years, to be the noblest of all animals and, therefore, to represent perfect goodness. It was thought to tread so lightly and carefully that it left no footprints and it damaged no living thing with its hooves. The appearance of the qilin was also supposed to be the sign of a virtuous ruler. It is usually depicted bearing books on its back, a reference to the scholar, and in turn, it is also an allusion to the 'four elegant accomplishments' of music, chess, literature and painting. The subject, therefore, is a reference to long life, perfect goodness and literary accomplishments.
Two jade carvings of qilin are in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and are illustrated in Jadeware (III) - The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 94 for a qilin carrying books, and pl. 95 for one with lingzhi sprays in its mouth.