- This article is about the spirit. For the first Avatar, see Wan.
|"I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study."|
|— Wan Shi Tong introducing himself to Professor Zei and Team Avatar.|
Wan Shi Tong is an ancient, wise, and powerful spirit who collects information for his Spirit Library. He is the most knowledgeable being among humans and spirits, never missing an opportunity to learn new facts or boast about his vast intelligence, though he has developed an indifference for studying human technology since leaving the physical world. Although his regular shape is that of a huge black-and-white barn owl, when angered he can assume much more frightening, stronger forms.
Giving humanity knowledge
For eons, Wan Shi Tong kept his spirit library, consider a true wonder of the world since the time of its creation. The library was originally located in the Spirit World, where he collected knowledge. His servants, the Knowledge Seekers, were capable and cunning, and regularly passed from the Spirit World to the physical world in order to collect books and tomes written by mortals and bring them to the library.
A few thousand years before the Harmonic Convergence of 171 AG, Wan Shi Tong decided to bring his magnificent library to the physical world in an area that would later be known as the Si Wong Desert in the Earth Kingdom. Part of the reason was to make it easier for the Knowledge Seekers to find and bring back learnings. But for a time, Wan Shi Tong also welcomed all mortals to the library. Anyone could access the library and its vast stores of information as long as they brought some knowledge in return. Wan Shi Tong forbade the use of the library for destructive and violent behavior, and forbade anything that threatened the knowledge stored there, but otherwise the exchange of knowledge was the single most important rule for any visitor of the library.
For eons, the relationship was beneficial and more or less stable for both Wan Shi Tong and the mortals who sought the library. There were those who sought to abuse Wan Shi Tong's hospitality, but they were relatively few and far between, and easily dealt with by the great spirit's talons. Across the eons, the world was wild and spread out enough that most who came to the library either lived near it and had an interest in a stable relationship with the great spirit, or were in sync with Wan Shi Tong's own beliefs. Wan Shi Tong often traded the most with the nearby Si Wong tribespeople, who delivered valuable texts and knowledge to him in exchange for access to the library's archives and its useful information.
During the life of Avatar Kyoshi, Wan Shi Tong was left infuriated after a daofei group known as the Paper Knives successfully stole a tome of great importance from his library. He dispatched his knowledge seekers to find the Paper Knives, and to alert the Avatar. Kyoshi had no time to rescue a book while dealing with many other human crises at the time, so she used her network of friends and allies to find people willing to carry out the task on her behalf.
Worsening relations with humans
As the world grew more and more connected, those with darker interests came to seek the library, and Wan Shi Tong's feelings about the library and its visitors began to change. The sojourners who came to the library during the life of Avatar Roku soured the great spirit on humanity, as many of them were not interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but instead sought a way for their nation to gain an advantage over the others. Wan Shi Tong blamed the Si Wong tribespeople for the actions of those they delivered to the library, and banned them from any future access to the vast repository of learning. Wan Shi Tong gave every visitor to the library a colder reception during this time.
During the Hundred Year War, a low-level officer in the Fire Navy named Zhao gave Wan Shi Tong knowledge of Fire Nation war machines, and then sought the source of waterbenders' power, discovering the existence of Tui and La, the Moon and Ocean Spirits, and through them a plan to eliminate waterbending. Zhao and some fellow soldiers then destroyed the Fire Nation section of the library. Wan Shi Tong was infuriated by Zhao's offenses, and the wronged owl spirit banned humans from his library.
Encountering Team Avatar
Wan Shi Tong met Team Avatar and Professor Zei with hostility upon their arrival at his library. Following his explanation for banning humans from the library, the Knowledge Spirit agreed to admit Team Avatar and the professor upon Avatar Aang's promise to not use the knowledge for violence. In return, Wan Shi Tong required each person to provide an addition to his collection. While he was pleased with Zei's and Katara's donations, a first edition tome and an authentic waterbending scroll, respectively, he was less impressed with though nonetheless accepted the offerings of Aang and Sokka, which were a wanted poster of himself and a knot.
Although he initially let his visitors wander around freely, Wan Shi Tong later confronted Team Avatar when Sokka accidentally revealed his intent to use his discovery of the Day of Black Sun to launch an invasion of the Fire Nation during the next solar eclipse. Tired of witnessing his knowledge be misused to hurt others, the enraged spirit began to sink the library back into the Spirit World and attacked the foursome as they had already acquired too much information according to him. As the team split up, Wan Shi Tong continued to chase down Katara and Momo, intending to add the winged lemur to his specimen collection. Before he could attack, however, he was knocked out by Sokka with a blow to the head.
Back in the Spirit World, Wan Shi Tong resumed his librarian position and continued to expand his vast collection of knowledge. When rumors reached him of a wondrous tome of ancient knowledge hidden in Cranefish Town, he sent his Knowledge Seekers to the location in the physical world, though was unaware that the rumors were the largely exaggerated theories of the academic Ruiquan Shiang, who was insecure about her accomplishments always feeling lesser than her sister's.
In 171 AG, Wan Shi Tong met Jinora when she entered his library searching for information on the location of the spirit portals. When she saw the vast collection of books and remarked that she could remain there forever, reading, the owl spirit flew down in front of the young airbender and warned her that the last human who desired to read forever was still there, pointing to Professor Zei's skeletal remains slumped against a bookshelf. Wan Shi Tong ordered her to leave immediately, reminding her that humans were not allowed in the library. Jinora attempted to convince him to let her stay by offering new knowledge as per the old rule, though he rebuffed her, stating that he had changed his policy and voiced his disbelief that she knew something he did not.
Jinora offered to provide him with information about the radio, but Wan Shi Tong claimed to already known how the device worked, having been provided with the information by one of his Knowledge Seekers, namely by having a small man inside the box singing and playing instruments. Although Jinora corrected him and offered the true mechanics of the radio, Wan Shi Tong stated that he had no interest in human inventions and requested once more that she leave. However, upon learning that the young girl was Aang's granddaughter and had come to the Spirit World with Avatar Korra, he allowed Jinora to look around but warned her not to break anything before flying away.
While Jinora was reading about Harmonic Convergence, Wan Shi Tong returned with Chief Unalaq at his side, having informed him of her presence in the library. Explaining his alliance with Unalaq, the spirit said that the waterbender had proven to be a true friend to the spirits, unlike the Avatar. However, he was shocked when Unalaq revealed his true plans, as he had not anticipated the extent of the imbalance Unalaq sought to inflict upon the world.
During Harmonic Convergence, Avatar Korra successfully defeated Unavaatu, and chose to keep the spirit portals open, meaning that humans could physically enter the library in the Spirit World. Korra's decision led to Wan Shi Tong reexamining his beliefs about humans. He decided to give humans a second chance, and opened the library once more, though still required humans to bring new knowledge. He remained wary, and tried to ensure that no humans would learn simply for the sake of power, though was willing to do his part to bridge the gap between humans and spirits. Wan Shi Tong was aware that humans had made incredible advances after he had taken the library to the Spirit World, and that many had not been discovered by the Knowledge Seekers. He therefore tried to learn all that he could through humans themselves. However, he was largely indifferent to the strange new devices of the time period, and was disgusted to learn about the Earth Empire harvesting spirit vines for energy, which he considered to be an example of human avarice.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book Two: Earth (土)
- 210. "The Library"
The Legend of Korra
Book Two: Spirits (神靈)
- 210. "A New Spiritual Age"
- "Wan Shi Tong" " a term he even used to describe himself. However, the characters in the scroll depicting the library are " ", meaning "Hall of immeasurable (lit. ten thousand) knowledge".
" is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese that means "He who knows ten thousand things,"
- "Ten thousand things" is a Taoistic expression for all of creation; by introducing himself as "he who knows ten thousand things", Wan Shi Tong is referring to himself as all-knowing. He also directly refers to himself as "all-knowing" when he tells Sokka to at least put in some effort when intending to lie to "an all-knowing spirit being".
- Wan Shi Tong's two forms resemble animals which are used as symbols for knowledge in the real world: the owl (west, such as Europe) and the serpent (east, such as China).
- The owl is considered a symbol of wisdom in Asia and is also a symbol of Athena/Minerva, the Greek/Roman Goddess of Wisdom.
- Wan Shi Tong's normal form as a barn owl is reminiscent of his spirit status. Barn owls, because of their pure white faces and black eyes, are often called "ghost", "demon", or "death owls".
- Like an owl, he has the ability to turn his head almost completely around.
- Wan Shi Tong has studied all three types of waterbending: Northern Water Style, Southern Water Style, and Foggy Swamp Style. After he took the library with him to the Spirit World, knowledge of the Southern Water Style was all but extinct in the Avatar World, except for in the case of the Southern master Hama and Katara, whom she had instructed for a brief period of time.
- He is the only spirit known to ally with Unalaq without being turned into a dark spirit.
- Wan Shi Tong's image is included in the "Gear & More" section of the old Nick.com website's episode descriptions. Therefore, his first appearance, though unnamed, was on Nick.com over a year before he made his television debut.
- He also appeared briefly in the animated short "School Time Shipping", as the school librarian, parodying his library in the regular series.
- Wan Shi Tong's only appearances in the franchise take place in the tenth chapter of the second book of each series.
- O'Bryan, John (writer) & Volpe, Giancarlo (director). (July 14, 2006). "The Library". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2. Episode 10. Nickelodeon.
- From older Avatar: The Last Airbender official site, originally on Nick.com. Encyclopedia now broken, archived at The Lost Lore of Avatar Aang - Character: Wan Shi Tong.
- Hedrick, Tim (writer) & Graham, Ian (director). (November 8, 2013). "A New Spiritual Age". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 10. Nickelodeon.
- Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Wan Shi Tong's Adventure Guide, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 6.
- Avatar Extras for "The Library" on Nicktoons Network.
- Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Wan Shi Tong's Adventure Guide, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 7.
- Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Wan Shi Tong's Adventure Guide, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 15.
- Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Wan Shi Tong's Adventure Guide, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 164.