From 1994 to 1997, the “Chinese and American Mascot: Unicorn” coin sets were issued by the People’s Bank of China to commemorate the unicorn: two mystical beasts from the Chinese and Western folklore that share the same name. The unicorn of the Western folklore is of course the familiar gentle white horse with a single horn that has the ability to cure all poison and revive the dead. It often represents white magic and appears in the Bible, fantasy literatures, as well as many medieval based stories and games. The Chinese unicorn, Qilin, however is something quite different. Also known as Kirin by the Japanese, Qilin is a fierce looking beast with a dragon’s head, a deer’s body, an Ox’s tail, a pair of horns and covered with fish scales. While it is fierce looking, it is a symbol of good fortune and good deeds. It was especially important during ancient times when the other mystical beasts, dragons and phoenixes, were exclusive symbols for the emperor and royalties. The Qilin therefore served as the protector of common citizens, bringing good fortunes to the good and judgements to the bad. It has also been viewed as one of the gods of fertility. The importance of the Qilin has been passed on for generations, and even now, the Qilin is commonly seen during Chinese New Year and other important festivals and events to symbolise good luck.
The Unicorn series was first issued in 1994 where both a Gold set and a Silver set were issued. For both sets, the reverse is a unicorn standing on a bed of flowers, while the obverse features a child riding a Qilin, depicting the Qilin as a god of fertility, bringing a child to want-to-be parents. The 1994 set includes a rare 18 mintage kilo Gold coin, as well as a Double Metal coin with ¼ oz gold and 1/8 oz silver which has on the obverse a picture of the Summer Palace instead of a Qilin. The 1995 set also has both Gold, Silver and Bimetallic coins, as well as a ½ oz Platinum coin that was minted in Australia. The obverse and reverse of these coins feature a Qilin and a pair of mother-and-son unicorns respectively, except the Double Metal coin which again features the Summer Palace on its obverse side. The 1996 set has only the Gold, Silver and Platinum coins. However, these three coins come in three different reverse designs: a unicorn, a unicorn head portrait, and a virgin and a unicorn, which depicts the legend of a virgin who tricks unicorns into appearing and then takes their horns. Finally, the 1997 set includes only 2 Silvers, 1 Gold and 1 Platinum coins, and has on the obverse a pair of mother-and-son Qilins, and a galloping unicorn on the reverse.