Friday, May 18, 2007

A Chinese Unicorn

The very last entry in the Chunqiu, or the "Spring and Autumn Annals," is this:
In spring of the fourteenth year, in the West a hunting expedition captured a unicorn.

What is the significance? Supposedly, Confucius heard the news and began to weep, saying "Why has it come? Why has it come?" His disciples asked what was wrong, and he said, "The unicorn only comes when there is a brilliant king. Now it has appeared when it is not its time and was injured. I'm pained by this." According to some commentators, this is what moved Confucius to write the Chunqiu--a history that instructs the reader.

(By the way, it's not really a "unicorn." Actually it's what we might call "kirin" after the Japanese pronunciation. The ki 麒 is the male of the species and the rin 麟 is the female. The Erya 爾雅 says that it has the body of an antelope, the tail of an ox, and one horn. I think there is a name for such an amalgamation in English but it's been a while since I looked at the Fiend Folio.)


Matt said...

Wait, 麒 is male and 麟 is female? This makes me look at the Kirin Beer mascot in a whole new light.

amida said...

Yep, that was originally the case. I think it's safe to say they have fused into the name of the animal (and the cool mascot for a Japanese beer).