|"Because we've been without an Avatar so long, the duty has fallen on me. And because I have no claim on leadership from noble blood, I have to do it solely by creating ties of personal loyalty. [...] I'm only a stopgap measure. A substitute. The responsibility of keeping the Earth Kingdom stable and in balance with the other nations rightfully belongs to the Avatar. [...] I blame myself for [Kuruk's] demise. [...] I didn't teach him wisdom. I believe the world is still paying for my mistake in that regard."|
|— Jianzhu about his responsibilities as politician and failings as Avatar Kuruk's teacher.|
Jianzhu was an Earth Sage, earthbending master, and one of the world's leading politicians during the late 4th and early 3rd century BG. At the peak of his power, he was the de facto ruler of most of the Earth Kingdom, though his power was constantly challenged by political rivals.
Having been Avatar Kuruk's close friend and later earthbending teacher, Jianzhu felt responsible for his friend's premature death due to his lack of guidance. In addition, the search for Kuruk's successor proved futile for several years, while the world increasingly descended into chaos. Fueled by guilt and a desire to restore what he regarded as balance, Jianzhu stepped in and assumed many traditional duties of the Avatar. With the aid of his old friend Kelsang, he forged a large network of allies and destroyed many rebel and bandit groups that had grown in power. Over time, his methods to maintain balance became more and more extreme to the point where he was willing to sacrifice anyone to achieve his goals. Eventually, Jianzhu identified a boy named Yun as Avatar and began to rigorously train him.
This endeavor proved futile, however, as Yun was eventually proven to be a regular earthbender, whereas a servant girl named Kyoshi was the true Avatar. In a desperate attempt to gain control of Kyoshi and train her to become the perfect Avatar, Jianzhu sacrificed his pupil Yun and murdered his friend Kelsang. When she escaped, Jianzhu mobilized all his resources to hunt her down. In the process, he murdered both a large number of leading Earth Sages as well as Kyoshi's friend Lek. Jianzhu finally met his end when he confronted and dueled Kyoshi, but was interrupted and killed by a returned Yun.
In his testament, Jianzhu bequeathed all his wealth to Kyoshi and vouched for her good name - his final attempt to shape her according to his ideals. Overall, Jianzhu greatly influenced Kyoshi, and she adopted some of his beliefs, though outright rejected others.
Jianzhu was born in the northern Earth Kingdom among the Gan Jin tribe, and came from humble origins. From an early point in his life, he forged links with Ba Sing Se's bureaucrats, gradually gaining political influence. He later trained earthbending under Lu Beifong and came to greatly respect him as well as Lu's wife, Lady Wumei.
Jianzhu first met Kuruk while the Avatar was training under traditionalist earthbending masters. Jianzhu was the only one around Kuruk who agreed that it was not a detriment that he was incorporating waterbending forms in his earthbending, as all the elements were connected. Even though Kuruk considered Jianzhu to be somewhat uptight, the two of them cemented a close friendship as soon as their first Pai Sho game concluded.
Jianzhu accompanied Kuruk through his firebending and airbending training, and traveled to the Southern Air Temple with the Avatar. As Kuruk was eager to travel the world on a flying bison, he and Jianzhu snuck into the temple's bison pens, where they were caught by Kelsang, who pinned him against the wall with his airbending. They were disciplined for their lack of caution by the temple's abbots, and Kelsang was assigned as a chaperone for the pair. The fourth member of their group was Hei-Ran, who coldly turned down Kuruk's romantic advances. Jianzhu and Kelsang laughed about the brutal rejection to each other, forming a close friendship.
Although Kuruk had mastered all four elements, he surprised his companions by asking for more bending training, explaining that the grandmasters of Pai Sho never stopped learning, and that constant challenge could keep their skills growing. The companions practiced at every stop of their journey, identifying and correcting each other's bad habits. Under Jianzhu's tutelage, Kuruk became an extremely talented earthbender who could effortlessly best opponents in boulder-lifting contests.
After Kuruk had mastered the elements, Jianzhu and his comrades traveled to a small, uninhabited island where Kuruk could learn how to control the Avatar State. Despite their precautions, Kuruk almost killed his friends and destroyed the entire island when he successfully triggered the Avatar State for the first time. After Kuruk gained full control of his powers, the four friends traveled the world together, going on great adventures.
Jianzhu and Hei-Ran accompanied Kuruk to a meadow near Yaoping Town, where Kelsang guided him to the Spirit World for the first time. Returning to the physical world, Kuruk took Kelsang's glider and flew into the mountains. The next day, Kuruk's friends found him crawling through the streets of Yaoping, foaming from the mouth. Some days later, Jianzhu, Kelsang, and Hei-Ran walked into Kuruk's room at the town's inn, and found him surrounded by broken bottles of wine, and having slept with the inn's maid, although Jianzhu did not care about the matter.
As Kuruk was deeply tired from his battles with dark spirits, he let Jianzhu take on more of his political responsibilities. Jianzhu later blamed himself for not better teaching and guiding his friend during this time, believing that Kuruk had neglected his Avatar duties. Though they remained good friends, over time, the four companions began to drift apart and split up in 316 BG. Jianzhu returned to his home and began to work on his family's holdings. A few months afterward, his father got sick.
When Kuruk died in 312 BG aged just 33, Jianzhu felt that he had failed his friend and the world by not teaching him wisdom, contributing to Kuruk's life choices and early death. He was among those who were at the Avatar's side as he died and promised Kuruk that he would find the next Avatar and do right by them. Regardless of this promise, the Earth Kingdom's greatest elders and sages had the right to be the first ones to try to identify the next Avatar through the traditional method of geomancy. Jianzhu was just allowed to assist the search. He did, however, take possession of Kuruk's journals and learned much about the Spirit World by reading them.
Search for Kuruk's successor
To Jianzhu's desperation, the search for Kuruk's successor turned out to be futile, and rebels and criminals grew increasingly bolder during the Avatar's absence: The disastrous Yellow Neck Uprising broke out in the central Earth Kingdom, while the Fifth Nation pirates carried out more and more raids. Feeling responsible, Jianzhu started to travel the world in hopes of making a difference. In the central Earth Kingdom, he witnessed the great suffering of the people at the hands of the Yellow Necks and requested aid from the Earth King to deal with the insurgents, to no avail. He also met one of the Fifth Nation's leaders, Tulok, and asked him to honor an old treaty his ancestor had signed with Avatar Yangchen, which stipulated that the Fifth Nation would leave the Earth Kingdom in peace. Tulok instead derided Jianzhu and defiled the ancient document. These events left a lasting psychological impact on him, as he grew disillusioned with the majority of the Earth Kingdom's leadership, regarding it as deeply corrupt and self-serving while doing nothing to counter the chaos. He eventually started to build his own political network of friends and allies in the Earth Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, in the other nations to help him better take action all around the world. Among his most notable allies were his old master, Lu Beifong, as well as Lady Wumei. Following the latter's death, however, Jianzhu's relationship with his old master deteriorated somewhat. As Jianzhu's influence grew, numerous political rivals challenged him, but he eliminated all of them.
As time went on, the Earth Kingdom's elders allowed Jianzhu to take part in expeditions to search for the Avatar. As a result, he traveled to places all over the Earth Kingdom, including to the Crystal Catacombs under Ba Sing Se and a remote part of the Si Wong Desert. As none of these expeditions yielded any results, the other elders eventually allowed Jianzhu to assume a leading role in the search and try the geomancy himself, but he was no more successful than all the others. In his last attempt to use the traditional earth methods, he ended up on an iceberg near the North Pole where he found nothing more than a group of turtle seals. Frustrated at these repeated failures, Jianzhu, together with his friend Kelsang, resorted to more unconventional means, as they got drunk one day and had the idea to use the Air Nomads' method for identifying the Avatar instead of the Earth Kingdom's.
Acting upon their drunken idea, Jianzhu and Kelsang stole the Air Nomads' Avatar relics in 305 BG and traveled to the remote settlement of Yokoya Port to test their new identification method. All children who had assembled at the town hall failed the test, however, and Jianzhu had to deal with their dissatisfied parents who demanded retests or monetary compensation. Jianzhu eventually noticed a tall, underfed girl standing at the hall entrance who had not yet been tested. When a villager confirmed that she was a homeless orphan, Jianzhu thought about the numerous children like her whose parents had been killed by bandits or rebels that could roam free due to the chaos plaguing the inner provinces. He learned her name was Kyoshi.
Although Jianzhu remarked that Kyoshi was probably too old to be the Avatar, noticing her impressive length, Kelsang decided to present her with the relics anyway, but before they could properly conduct the test, Kyoshi stole one of the relics and promptly fled the scene before the two masters could stop her. Angered, Jianzhu wanted to give chase but Kelsang decided to let her go and let her keep the toy, much to Jianzhu's confusion. Kelsang consequently shouldered the blame for the relics' disappearance alone, keeping Jianzhu's reputation intact. Despite the missing relic, the two continued their quest for the new Avatar, which proved to be continuously fruitless. As time passed, they, as well as many other sages and elders around the world, gave up and lost faith, believing that the line of Avatars had ended.
Assuming the Avatar's duties
Jianzhu refused to just allow the world to fall into chaos, as many others believed it was destined to do without the Avatar. Along with Kelsang and Hei-Ran, he resolved to do whatever it took to keep balance. He expanded his international network of allies; doing so, he became increasingly pragmatic and ruthless in selecting his allies. Though he generally attempted to make the Earth Kingdom's government more effective and fair, he also began to ally with some powerful officials who were useful yet corrupt and incompetent. Jianzhu initially opposed the appointment of Te Sihung as the successor of his father, a governor in the Eastern Provinces, as he was still merely a child, though he eventually began to see Te as a useful pawn; he started to act as the boy's patron, thereby ensuring his total loyalty. He also became very close to the ruling elites of Omashu, Gaoling, and Ba Sing Se, who consequently supported his actions. While visiting Ba Sing Se, Jianzhu studied the city's political and economic situation and wrote journals on these matters.
Jianzhu was also involved in hunting down various daofei groups in the Earth Kingdom. On one occasion, he tracked the so-called "Band of the Scorpion" at the edges of the Si Wong Desert and destroyed the small bandit group. At some point, Jianzhu began to actively hunt for the Yellow Necks in order to bring them to justice. In 304 BG, Jianzhu finally trapped the rebels at Zhulu Pass and defeated them in battle. He managed to capture their leader Xu Ping An but decided against executing him while he showed no such leniency for the other members of the Yellow Necks who had surrendered; he first tortured the earthbending rebels to death before promising the remaining nonbenders their freedom if they could dig a hole deep enough to hide in by sunset while failure would mean certain death. Jianzhu took twisted pleasure in observing as the desperate Yellow Necks dug and killed each other for shovels. When night broke, however, he reneged on his promise and used his own bending to bury the 5,000 Yellow Necks who had managed to dig deep enough alive while he allowed the remaining members to leave.
Jianzhu sent a message to the Earth King, proclaiming Xu Ping An dead. The public was also told nothing of the massacre, and Jianzhu was declared a national hero for defeating the catastrophic insurgency. At the same time, Jianzhu contacted his allies in the Fire Nation, informing them of Xu Ping An's ability to generate lightning and imprisonment in the prisons of Governor Te Sihung.
Jianzhu did not just concern himself with worldly matters, however, and even began to make contacts with the Spirit World. Using Kuruk's journals, he became acquainted with some spirits, most notably Father Glowworm who had been one of Kuruk's most fierce enemies. Despite knowing the creature's hateful and malevolent nature, as well as its involvement in Kuruk's long suffering, Jianzhu developed some kind of working relationship with Father Glowworm. According to Kuruk's spiritual master Nyahitha, all who knew of Father Glowworm's name were cursed to suffer misfortune. The sage partially attributed Jianzhu's eventual fate to his contacts with the spirit.
Jianzhu and Kelsang eventually traveled to Makapu Village from where they surveyed the local volcano. On the last day of their trip, the two masters came across Yun, an orphaned boy hustling a crowd of tourists out of their money with a game of Pai Sho. Observing the gameplay, Jianzhu realized that Yun was using the Pai Sho strategies of Avatar Kuruk, which were privileged knowledge to only Kuruk and his closest companions. Taking this as a sign that Yun could be Kuruk's reincarnation, Jianzhu took the boy aside and tested his bending abilities. Since the boy proved himself to be an earthbending prodigy, Jianzhu, overjoyed, declared Yun to be the Avatar.
Jianzhu convinced the Earth Sages to acknowledge Yun's Avatarhood and became the boy's guardian and mentor, teaching him all he knew about earthbending and politics. The two formed a close bond and would often play Pai Sho together, as well as travel the world. Over time, Yun came to see Jianzhu as a father figure. In order to safely house and train Yun, Jianzhu decided to construct a fortified mansion on a parcel of land on Yokoya peninsula at Kelsang's suggestion. He employed his own ranks of guardsmen to act as a security detail for him, Yun, and the mansion. Jianzhu used his connections to ensure that his allies, Hei-Ran, Kelsang, and Amak, were subsequently appointed as the Avatar's firebending, airbending, and waterbending teachers respectively. Feeling that Yun had to defend himself from enemies and their potentially underhanded tactics, Jianzhu believed that the young man had to learn the very skills his opponents would use against him. He thus tasked Amak with training Yun as assassin and spy, though never demanded that this training was turned to practice. As a result of Jianzhu's investment in the Yokoya peninsula, he came to regard the area as his home and became its official sage.
Jianzhu successfully tutored Yun to become a true earthbending master, as well as a charismatic and learned individual. His goal was to mold the young Avatar to his own image: friendly and approachable as well as ruthlessly effective and capable of making the hard decisions. Using his status as the Avatar's guardian, Jianzhu continued to forge treaties around the world and expanded his network, growing increasingly more influential. In course of a trip to the Fire Nation, Jianzhu and Yun supported Fire Lord Zoryu during a succession conflict which later became known as "Camellia-Peony War". They advised the Fire Lord to restart an old program to recruit look-alike decoys to draw out assassins and protect important individuals. Much to Jianzhu's frustration and worry, Yun's status as an exemplary student became marred when he began his firebending training and proved to be unable to produce even a flicker of fire despite his rigorous training regime. In an attempt to rationalize the problem, Jianzhu concluded that Yun was somehow slacking off or lacking in dedication and increasingly limited his pupil's free time while implementing ever harder and brutal training methods. These decisions, which became more radical with each passing failure to bend another element, put a strain on Jianzhu's friendship with Kelsang, as the Air Nomad opposed Jianzhu's strictness and the earthbending master restricted Kelsang's access to Yun in return, who eventually resigned to focus more on raising his factually-adopted daughter, Kyoshi.
Two years after finding Yun, Jianzhu's emissaries were able to convince Tagaka, the current leader of the Fifth Nation, to sign a modified version of the Fifth Nation's treaty with Yangchen. Along with Yun, Kelsang, Hei-Ran, Amak, Rangi and Kyoshi, Jianzhu traveled to a large iceberg in the South Pole to meet with Tagaka, and witness her formally signing the new treaty. During the initial meeting, Tagaka took note of Kyoshi due to her imposing stature, much to Jianzhu's displeasure, as he and Yun had previously argued over her presence. As Tagaka held a banquet for Yun's party, she caught Yun off guard by revealing Jianzhu's massacre at Zhulu Pass, as well as the dark reputations of Kelsang and Hei-Ran. Though Yun managed to maintain a calm demeanor, once Tagaka had departed for the evening, confronted Jianzhu. The Earth Sage attempted to justify his actions, arguing that he exacted justice on daofei who believed themselves beyond reprisal. As Yun sarcastically remarked that his teachers were already shifting such arbitrary measures onto himself, Jianzhu scolded him for allowing Tagaka to rattle him and ordered the rest of their party to leave them so master and student could have words.
The next morning, Jianzhu led Yun's party to meet with Tagaka for the treaty signing. However, he became outraged when Yun demanded that Tagaka release all the Earth Kingdom hostages in her care. Tagaka surprisingly agreed, before revealing that her true plan had been to lure Jianzhu, Yun and their allies into an ambush, while the Fifth Nation invaded Yokoya. Shortly after she killed Amak, waterbenders dragged Jianzhu, Hei-Ran and Rangi under the ice. Somehow, they managed to escape and took to the air on Pengpeng, arriving just as Kyoshi foiled Tagaka's plan through an extremely powerful display of earthbending, bending huge spikes of earth from the seafloor that devastated the Fifth Nation fleet, with Jianzhu using his own earthbending to finish off the surviving ships.
After the victory, which destroyed the Fifth Nation as a naval power, Jianzhu captured and interrogated a Fifth Nation lieutenant for information on their prisoners, Hei-Ran later using her connections in the Fire Navy to arrange their rescue. In the meantime, having seen Kyoshi's power, Jianzhu began to suspect that she, not Yun, was the Avatar. Once back in Yokoya, he asked Kyoshi about what had happened on the iceberg, talking about all he had done to keep the Earth Kingdom together in the Avatar's absence to try and get her to open up, but Kyoshi merely claimed that she had panicked and lashed out as hard as she could. Later on, Jianzhu and Hei-Ran subjected Kyoshi to a test used to identify firebenders among newborn babies. When Kyoshi failed to firebend, Jianzhu stormed out of the room, striking a doorframe with enough force to earthbend a stack of training discs into dust.
Re-identifying the Avatar
To finally solve the Avatar succession crisis, Jianzhu decided to ask his old acquaintance Father Glowworm for clarity. He took Kyoshi and Yun with him to a cave in the mountains, claiming they were there to commune with a spirit in order to ease its suffering. Instructing them to meditate, he used incense to drug them and prevent them from resisting Father Glowworm's attempts to take their blood for examination. Yun managed to partly overcome the incense thanks to Amak's poison training and attack Father Glowworm in order to protect Kyoshi, but the spirit nevertheless managed to obtain their blood and identify Kyoshi as the Avatar. With the truth finally revealed and fearing the spirit would take revenge on Kuruk's reincarnation, Jianzhu rescued Kyoshi while allowing Father Glowworm to take Yun away, seeing no more use for his former disciple. Believing Jianzhu to have murdered Yun, Kyoshi attacked him, tackling him off the terrace before impacting a hardened tree root separated them. As Jianzhu descended a flight of earth stairs, Kyoshi desperately attempted to attack him but he easily countered her novice attacks. Standing eye to eye with Kyoshi, he attempted to persuade her to move past Yun's "sacrifice" which only served to insult her. When she attempted to produce a fire fist at his face, Jianzhu dropped his fascade and used his bending to restrain and suffocate her. Even as he insulted Yun's memory by calling him a "little swindler", he claimed that without him, she would be useless as an Avatar, and that however much she resisted, he would not allow her abilities to be squandered.
Releasing Kyoshi to allow her to recover, Jianzhu found himself confronted by Kelsang, who had become suspicious at finding him, Kyoshi and Yun missing from the estate, and flown after them to investigate despite his wounds from the battle at the iceberg. Jianzhu tried to distract Kelsang from Yun's disappearance with the news that Kyoshi was the Avatar, and when that failed, he admitted that Yun was dead and attempted to deny responsibility for it. Kelsang was not convinced however, and having heard the truth from Kyoshi and seen her distressed state, he vowed to never let Jianzhu have anything more to do with her. Enraged at such an idea, Jianzhu shouted that there was nowhere in the Four Nations where they could hide from him, owing to his connections across the world and Kelsang's poor history with the Air Nomads. Kelsang responded by attacking Jianzhu with airbending, but with his wounds and reluctance to kill his old friend in spite of everything, Jianzhu easily killed him by bending a sliver of rock at his neck. As Kelsang's lifeless body fell to the ground, Jianzhu felt a momentary twinge of sadness.
The death of Kelsang, who she had seen as a beloved father figure, caused Kyoshi to involuntarily go into the Avatar State and decimate the surrounding environment. Jianzhu survived by burrowing deep underground with his earthbending, and re-emerged to find Kyoshi gone. Returning to his estate in Yokoya, Jianzhu learned that Kyoshi had also returned before fleeing, and later discovered that Rangi had gone with her. When confronted by Hei-Ran about what had happened, Jianzhu told her about Kyoshi being the Avatar and bearing a grudge against him, but claimed he was not responsible for Kelsang and Yun's deaths, putting all the blame on Father Glowworm. Believing that everything would be alright as long as Kyoshi was willing to be his disciple, Jianzhu instructed Hei-Ran to write to Professor Shaw, one of his contacts at Ba Sing Se University, asking for permission to borrow his shirshus.
To pacify his household, Jianzhu told them that Yun and Kelsang had left to travel the world together, as he waited for Professor Shaw to reply about the shirshus. Before this could happen, Jianzhu and Hei-Ran received an invitation for Yun to attend a party being held by the Beifong family to celebrate his supposed defeat of the Fifth Nation. Jianzhu guessed that Chamberlain Hui, his chief rival in the Earth Kingdom, was behind this, knowing that Hui sought to replace him as the Avatar's caretaker. When Hei-Ran suggested that they claim Yun was too sick to attend the party, Jianzhu replied that not only would this reflect poorly on him, it would prompt Hui to send healers to the estate, and the other sages would become suspicious if they were turned away.
Recognizing that he could not keep the Avatar's disappearance a secret indefinitely, and hearing Hei-Ran's advice to identify which sages would support him after the truth was revealed, Jianzhu decided to attend the party with her. While there, they attempted to persuade Lu Beifong to approve a loan to the Southern Water Tribe that would allow them to establish a navy, thereby enabling them to defend their coastlines and engage in mercantile trade, but they were defeated by Hui, who had regularly opposed Jianzhu's plans simply to advance his own position regardless of their overall benefits. Following this debate, Jianzhu met with Hui in private and admitted a partial version of the truth about the Avatar's absence - that Yun had become estranged from him and left - knowing that Hui would only believe one of his claims if it rendered him vulnerable.
As Jianzhu had anticipated, Hui agreed to cover for him, making his story ironclad across the entire Earth Kingdom and leaving him only a single opponent to worry about, but Hei-Ran nevertheless disapproved of Jianzhu's plans and continuous dishonesty. On the way back from the party, he reassured her that they simply had to find Kyoshi, and that it would be dangerous for Hui to spill the truth too quickly and carelessly, contrary to what she feared. Unbeknownst to Hei-Ran, Jianzhu had another motive for confiding in Hui; when the chamberlain gathered his allies among the sages, Jianzhu would be able to identify the ones not on his side; whoever was leftover could be counted on to support him.
Upon returning to his estate and discovering that the shirshus had arrived, Jianzhu gave them Rangi's scent and sent them after her, intending to use the firebender as leverage against Kyoshi to ensure her complicity if he ever brought her back. Later learning that one of the shirshus had tracked the two girls to the Taihua Mountains before its handlers lost control of the animal, Jianzhu and two of his guardsmen, one of them a man named Saiful, set off after them on eel hounds. As soon as they arrived, the shirshu tracker was shot in the back by arrows. Jianzhu managed to swiftly kill the enemy archers, though Saiful was the only guardsman to survive. Examining the bodies of their attackers, Jianzhu noted he was wearing a moon peach blossom badge before following their tracks to the now abandoned daofei settlement of Hujiang, where they found the dead body of the shirshu. Searching the town, Jianzhu came across the injured "Four Shadows" Guan, and manipulated him into revealing the existence of the Autumn Bloom Society. After finishing his conversation with Guan, Jianzhu deduced that Kyoshi had been captured by the Autumn Bloom Society after traveling to the mountains to hide, and later discovered that Saiful had sent off a messenger hawk, supposedly to request supplies. Jianzhu became suspicious and questioned Saiful, quickly discovering that he was an agent of Hui sent to infiltrate Jianzhu's household and find out what had happened to the Avatar, and that he had written to Hui informing him of the Avatar's capture. His cover blown, Saiful drew his sword on Jianzhu, who killed him in the subsequent confrontation.
Once back at his estate, Jianzhu learned from Hei-Ran that Hui was assembling a case for taking the Avatar away from him, seemingly with the information Jianzhu had provided at the party, though Jianzhu deduced that he was using the information Saiful had sent him. He predicted that it would take three weeks for Hui to gather enough sages to execute his plan, more than enough time for him to prepare a statement of the truth. Dismissing Hei-Ran, who by now wished to end the secrecy surrounding Kyoshi so that the other sages could help find her and Rangi, Jianzhu read through the mail he had been sent during his absence. He learned from Governor Te and a prefecture captain in the neighboring territory that Xu Ping An had escaped his imprisonment with the help of Kyoshi before being killed by her later on, and he deduced Kyoshi's rough location from the two letters.
Before he could act on the information, Hui and the sages unexpectedly arrived the next day, the chamberlain having gathered his allies entirely from the Earth Kingdom's northwestern coast. Jianzhu guessed that Hui had been planning such a move before learning of the Avatar's disappearance, and realized that he had underestimated his opponent. Not intending to give up control of Kyoshi to Hui, Jianzhu poisoned the water being used to make tea for the sages, and drank the contaminated tea himself to place himself above suspicion, counting on the immunity he had built up with Amak over the past years to protect him. Before the poison could take effect, Hui revealed his knowledge of Hujiang's existence to him and the other sages, and claimed that Jianzhu's irresponsibility and negligence had at worst cost the Earth Kingdom its portion of the Avatar Cycle, and made him no longer fit to teach the Avatar. Once again furious at the idea of not being the Avatar's mentor, Jianzhu asked if Hui was any better suited to this role, and ranted about how Hui and his ilk had destroyed the Earth Kingdom for the sake of money and power while Jianzhu had tried to keep it together. Moments later, the poison took effect, causing Jianzhu to collapse onto the table, reaching toward Hei-Ran as he lost consciousness.
Jianzhu survived the poison, albeit in a weakened state. Hui and his sages died, as did a number of Jianzhu's servants who had made themselves tea with the poisoned water. Hei-Ran had also taken the poison and lived, but she was far more badly affected than Jianzhu, ending up in a coma and only surviving due to her Fire Nation heritage.
Final confrontation with Kyoshi
Jianzhu traveled to Zigan Village once he had recovered from the poison, finding Kyoshi shopping there with Rangi and Lek. He attacked the trio with shirshu-spit darts, paralyzing Kyoshi and Rangi, and killing Lek as he had an allergic reaction to the shirshu venom. With the three of them incapacitated, he took Rangi away and imprisoned her within his estate, and left Kyoshi a note telling her to come to Qinchao Village, cutting off Rangi's topknot to provide extra incentive. He later met the Avatar in the teahouse of Qinchao, and revealed that he had been planning to capture Rangi from the start, causing Kyoshi to accuse him of being no better than a daofei. Jianzhu cited this analogy as proof that she needed his instruction, and revealed his intention to collapse the teashop and kill everyone inside if she refused to return to his estate. Kyoshi replied that this would be appropriate, considering his reputation among daofei, to which Jianzhu laughed and revealed the truth behind his mass murder at Zhulu Pass, explaining that true strength was bending people to one's will, rather than the elements. He acknowledged that Kyoshi was very hard to bend, but warned that he would kill Rangi along with the other customers in the teashop if she gave him no other option.
Kyoshi retaliated by earthbending a small stone that had once belonged to Lek at Jianzhu. The sage was almost taken by surprise, having thought Kyoshi incapable of such precise earthbending, but he managed to stop it with his own bending before attempting to collapse the teahouse. Kyoshi matched his earthbending with her own, and the two of them battled one another until they were interrupted by the appearance of Yun, who had seemingly survived Father Glowworm, yet now possessed an inhuman aura. With a faint smile, Yun quietly took hold of the stone Kyoshi and Jianzhu were grappling with and pressed it against Jianzhu's chest, using his bending to push it through the sage's body and out of his back, killing him. In his death throes, Jianzhu nearly inadvertently destroyed the teahouse, but Kyoshi was able to stop it from collapsing long enough for all the customers to escape.
Having foreseen the possibility that he might fail at forcing Kyoshi to submit, Jianzhu had greatly changed his testament before the confrontation at Qinchao and sent sealed copies to the most important individuals in the Earth Kingdom. In his testament, Jianzhu shouldered all blame at having misidentified the Avatar and confirmed Kyoshi's status as the true Avatar. In addition, he claimed that Yun was dead and bequeathed all his wealth and lands to Kyoshi. This was his final attempt to influence the Avatar and the world according to his ideals; furthermore, it reinforced the positive image that most people still had of Jianzhu. Regardless, some powerful Earth Kingdom figures felt that Jianzhu's failure at identifying the Avatar had made him an embarrassment. Lu Beifong even banned anyone at his mansion of mentioning Jianzhu's name, lest he be reminded of his own previous support for Yun.
Though the testament greatly enhanced Kyoshi's status and silenced most of those who had accused her of being an imposter, it also resulted in suspicions that Kyoshi had murdered Jianzhu to gain his wealth. Over the course of the next year, Jianzhu's journals were taken possession of and studied by Kyoshi in order to operate more effectively, as she felt that he had been the only figure that had provided leadership to the Earth Kingdom. His teachings came to influence her, albeit indirectly, as the Avatar. He also strongly impacted Yun who had managed to defeat Father Glowworm and used the spirit's power to start a crusade of vengeance against all whom he felt had wronged him.
Kyoshi continued to struggle with Jianzhu's legacy over the next two years, often feeling ashamed at using his brutal tactics. When she almost killed Lady Huazo and her son Chaejin, Kyoshi believed to hear Jianzhu's laughter of approval or Kelsang's weeping of despair; at that time, she finally rejected his most extreme tactics. After learning of Fire Lord Zoryu's ruthless strategy to end the Camellia-Peony War, Kyoshi also realized that the Earth Sage had been no "special breed of monster threatening to be reborn through her", as many people around the world actively tried to emulate him. Kyoshi eventually taught Jianzhu's way of carrying out tactical missions to the Dai Li.
- "Like I once explained to a former pupil, strength is bending people to your will, not the elements. You're very hard to bend, Kyoshi. But if you give me no other option, after I kill everyone here, I may have to go home and cut Rangi's throat–"
- ―Jianzhu showcasing his manipulative and ruthless streak.
Jianzhu was a highly intelligent, independent, rational, and determined man whose life was shaped by his belief that the Avatar had to bring order to the world, and, by extension, that it was his personal duty to teach the ideal Avatar. Though always a strategical thinker and rather serious-minded, Jianzhu was more easygoing in his youth. He gradually lost this aspect of his personality as he began to blame himself for the perceived failures of his friend and disciple, Kuruk. While he continued to maintain a friendly, calm, and empathetic exterior, the feelings of guilt and tribulations of his life resulted in Jianzhu becoming increasingly ruthless, brutal, and disdainful of those whom he blamed for the evils of the world, such as his political rivals and outlaws. This disdain grew to such an extent that he eventually took twisted pleasure in his mass killing of the Yellow Neck rebels at Zhulu Pass. Although the massacre initially weighted heavily on Jianzhu, according to Kelsang, this subsided when he felt fully vindicated upon discovering Yun.
Despite his growing ruthlessness and brutality, Jianzhu continued to regard himself and his power as a mere stopgap for the Avatar. While he was immensely wealthy and powerful, he took little enjoyment in most upper-class entertainment, such as parties, and preferred to spend his time working to improve the livelihood of other people. This care for others extended beyond the borders of his home country, as he wanted to help the Southern Water Tribe to become more prosperous and keep the Fire Nation stable. Jianzhu also had little patience for concepts such as national pride and the vanity projects of the Earth Kingdom government and regarded these as less important than the welfare of the masses. This compassion was concentrated on the fate of the many, however, as Jianzhu's experiences had emotionally dulled him to the suffering of individuals, as evidenced by his lack of sympathy for Kyoshi during their first meeting; to him, she was just one among countless desperate children in the Earth Kingdom. Jianzhu was also not above acknowledging the strengths of those who opposed him, such as when he praised the loyalty and brotherhood of a daofei group or approved of Kyoshi's growing earthbending abilities; regardless, such acknowledgments did not result in a change of heart or any kind of mercy. Jianzhu was a proud and spiteful man, even while acknowledging defeat. He was known for never surrendering a game of Pai Sho early in his life. On the rare occasions when an opponent was clearly the winner, he refused to surrender, as masters usually recognized when they were beaten and resigned while the action was still technically in progress. Instead, he forced his opponents to play out the lines to the bitter end, making them jump hurdles for every piece of his they captured out of sheer spite.
Overall, Jianzhu was unable to accept any other view of the ideal Avatarhood than his own and was ready to do anything to impart his own ideas to Kuruk's successor, including killing his own disciple, friends, and innocents. The extent to which he regretted his cruel actions varied greatly. In general, Jianzhu hardly ever doubted his righteousness, and his worries about his actions seemed to lessen the more extreme he became. Even upon acknowledging his callous and sadistic side, he refused to budge on his world view. In his eyes, the end justified the means and every horrible act he ever committed was forced upon him out of necessity to prevent worse. Regardless, he felt genuine remorse for killing Kelsang and poisoning Hei-Ran. In contrast, he felt no such remorse upon sacrificing Yun and harming Rangi. He was also largely unaffected by the death of his servants, who had ingested the poison meant for Hui and his allies by accident, and was instead furious about being "forced to turn his own home into a charnel house".
- Jianzhu ( ) means "building" or "structure" in Chinese, which fits with his nickname of "Architect".
- Jianzhu's death is reminiscent of that of the character Sebastian Shaw at the hands of Magneto in the film X-Men: First Class: both characters were powerful and attempting to enact mass murder, only to be stopped by the hero and eventually murdered by the antihero of the story, their former "protégé" and victim, who drove a small object through their body to kill them while they were rendered helpless and unable to retaliate.
- Jianzhu's style of earthbending was based on the Choy Li Fut style of Kung Fu, which originates from South China. Author F. C. Yee notes that it is characterized by a wide stance, yet acting fluidly with the upper body, such as whipping one's arms around in a fast manner.
- Jianzhu's design in Avatar: Generations was inspired by the fan arts of the user "kkachi95". This is the second known instance in which a canonical character is somewhat influenced by a fanwork, the first time being kkachi95's design for Rangi.
Unknown, eventually Boma
298 - 296 BG
Unknown, eventually Gyatso
Kuruk's first earthbending master
|Avatar's earthbending master
Unknown - 296 BG
Wong and Lek