|"Yes, humankind falters every now and then, but you know how to learn from your past mistakes. You've done it before, and you can do it again. I believe that ultimately, you will create a civilization that preserves and protects even as it grows. Do you understand? The spirits will always have a place in this world, as long as you -- and humans like you -- create a place for us."|
|— Lady Tienhai assures Aang that humans and spirits can coexist.|
Lady Tienhai is a giant humanoid spirit who once tended to a seashore in what would later become Earth Kingdom territory under the watchful eye of her friend and protector, General Old Iron. She became the guardian of the city erected on that same shore, resulting in a rift between her and General Old Iron. Afterward, Lady Tienhai took on a human form to venture into the city one night per year, but assumed it permanently after falling in love with the city's prince. Following her human death, she assumed the form of several cranefish which flew around her statue.
During the era of Raava, Lady Tienhai tended to the seashore of the Mo Ce Sea as if it was her garden. When a tribe of humans appeared, she became fascinated with them and allowed them to flourish on the land, believing that while it was beautiful, it was stagnant, lacking character, and unchanging. The spirit took on the role of their protector, entertaining their requests. When General Old Iron attempted to destroy the settlement out of fear for her safety, Lady Tienhai stopped him, forsaking her friendship with the spirit as a result. Over the course of thousands of years, the people prospered under her guardianship, their city growing into the most powerful of its time.
After General Old Iron left her, Lady Tienhai began her own tradition, venturing into the city one night per year as a human, marveling at everything the settlers had created. On one visit, she met the city's prince and became enamored with his curiosity and endless energy, specifically in the making of machines, books, sculptures, and building designs. As a result of her budding love for the future king, Lady Tienhai gave up her immortality and assumed a permanent human form, living with him in happiness for many years. After her death, she took on the form of cranefish. Avatar Yangchen, in a deal with Old Iron, constructed a statue of Lady Tienhai on the hill overlooking the city and led the Air Nomads in a festival honoring her, which the peaceful people continued after Yangchen's death as Yangchen's Festival. As result of this deal, the city was abandoned against Lady Tienhai's original wishes.
In 102 AG, after Avatar Aang defeated General Old Iron in battle, Lady Tienhai appeared before him in her original form, emerging from one of the cranefish. She explained her mortal life to him and told him that spirits do not die, but instead take on new forms. Lady Tienhai corrected her old friend's belief, stating that human nature is to create rather than dominate. She assured the Avatar, saddened over his failure to protect the sacred ground her statue was on, that humanity knew how to learn from its past mistakes and that it would create a civilization that preserves and protects even as it grows. Reassuming her cranefish form, Lady Tienhai asked him if he understood that spirits would always have a place as long as he and humans like him created a place for them. Asked how she knew this would happen, the spirit simply stated her hope for such an occurrence.
- The Rift trilogy (vision)
- Lady Tienhai's name is a transliteration of two Chinese words ( ) that mean "sky" and "ocean".
- Lady Tienhai is inspired by the Chinese goddess Mazu, sometimes called Tianhou, a goddess of the sea usually depicted with two guardian generals.
- In appearance, she is also similar to Guanyin, a Buddhist deity known as the Bodhisattva of compassion.
- Lady Tienhai turning into cranefish has similarities to cranes' position in Chinese mythology, which are symbolically connected with the idea of immortality, and may be used to refer to transformed Taoist immortals, who sometimes were said to have magical abilities to transform into cranes.
- Lady Tienhai is the first known spirit to have died from natural causes.
- She also is the first and only spirit known to have fallen in love with and marry a human.
- DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). The Rift Part Three (November 5, 2014), Dark Horse Comics.
- DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). The Rift Library Edition (February 11, 2015), Dark Horse Comics.
- DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). The Rift Part Two (July 2, 2014), Dark Horse Comics.
- The Rift Library Edition, page 146.