|"Selfless duty calls you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world."|
|— Yangchen to Aang.|
Yangchen was the Air Nomad Avatar succeeding Avatar Szeto and preceding Avatar Kuruk. After mastering all the elements in her youth, she was eager to make a difference in the world despite her inexperience. She eventually became a respected figure and was hailed for her wisdom, determination, and power. Although Air Nomad culture emphasized pacifism and the sanctity of life, Yangchen was feared for her fierce willingness to do whatever was required to maintain balance and peace throughout the world in her duty as the Avatar.
Due to her devotion, no threats of war occurred for an entire generation after her death. In death, she was revered as a holy individual, and people in the Earth Kingdom even began to pray to her for protection. However, her actions also contributed to a rise in dark spirit attacks during the time of her successor Kuruk.
- 1 History
- 2 Personality
- 3 Abilities
- 4 Appearances
- 5 Trivia
- 6 References
Yangchen was born and raised by Air Nuns in the Western Air Temple. She performed her first act of waterbending on a small island in the Mo Ce Sea and, like all Avatars, mastered the elements and the Avatar State in order to maintain world peace.
Before she started traveling, her elder caretakers made Master Boma promise to watch the young Avatar over until she could be on her own. A week after Yangchen had mastered the four elements, she set out with Boma and her two winged lemurs, Pik and Pak, on her sky bison on her first official mission as the Avatar to a shore-side city whose king had sent for her help. Upon her arrival, she was told by the king that the local fortune tellers had predicted a tragedy coming from the sea to befall the city that evening. Believing the fortune, Yangchen waited on a cliff overlooking the water. When past midnight an enormous spirit emerged from the water, she felt overwhelming grief emanating from the spirit and tried to make contact with him. He knocked her down, however, and the two engaged in battle, which would last through the night and leave the city in ruins.
As dawn broke, Yangchen finally managed to convince the spirit to tell her who he was and what he wanted. She could not let him exact his revenge on the citizens for "killing" Lady Tienhai, however, so she struck a deal with the General Old Iron spirit, one she promised to maintain for eternity in exchange for a truce with the humans. General Old Iron promised to never take up his armor against humanity, so long as the land remained free of human civilization. In return, Yangchen constructed a statue in Tienhai's memory and established a ritual among her people to visit the site once a year to prove that humankind could preserve and protect nature. So long as the land remained sacred to the Air Nomads, no one would dare develop the area and risk Old Iron's wrath.
Yangchen went on to face great dangers together with a team of companions; two of Yangchen's bending masters and friends died while defending her from enemies. Over time, she also became well learned and studied many different philosophies, including the writings of Gurus Laghima and Shoken. At some point, Yangchen met the leader of the Fifth Nation pirate fleet and signed a treaty with him, according to which the corsairs would leave the Earth Kingdom's southern coast in peace. She also made further pacts between humans and spirits, such as in the case of the Heartwalker of Yaoping Mountain, and the phoenix-eel spirits living under Ma'inka Island.
Following her death, Yangchen became revered as a holy figure in the Earth Kingdom and among the Air Nomads; people in the Earth Kingdom would even pray to her for protection and luck. Wayside shrines were dedicated to her throughout the Earth Kingdom. The devotion to Yangchen was such that people even prayed to her when facing another Avatar, such as Kyoshi. Her compassion toward others became a legend and she was remembered for this characteristic of hers. In remembrance of her intervention with General Old Iron, the Air Nomads continued to make yearly pilgrimages to the statue of Lady Tienhai, renaming the ritual Yangchen's Festival. The island on which Yangchen had first used waterbending became a holy site to the Air Nomads until it was accidentally destroyed by Avatar Kuruk. Over time, the Air Nomads made two statues of Yangchen: one in the Eastern Air Temple and one in the Western Air Temple.
Yangchen's political decisions also had a long-lasting impact. Her devotion to her duty as the Avatar ushered in a prolonged period of peace, as no threats of war occurred for an entire generation after her death. The Fifth Nation pirates honored her treaty for three generations until it was broken by their commander, Tulok, shortly after Kuruk's death. Her political decisions were also analyzed by scholars, who would write treatises on the subject. These were read by Yun, who was initially presumed to be Kuruk's successor.
Contrary to popular belief, however, her effect on the world was not wholly positive. When humans and spirits came into conflict with each other, she often sided with the humans, trusting they would respect their end of the bargain to take care of the physical world. While some humans did respect the new treaties, as in the case of Tienhai's city, many others did not. When humans violated the new promises, many spirits turned dark. This led to an abundance of dark spirits in the lifetime of Kuruk. After her death, she regretted that she gave the four nations everything they wanted. She acknowledged that no-one was entitled to their every desire, and in order to live in true balance, humans must know when not to take everything from the world, and from each other. The ramification of her choices in favoring humans over the spirits led to her reincarnation's suffering, which weighed heavily on Yangchen in her afterlife.
Appearances during Kyoshi's life
Kyoshi wished to contact Yangchen many times in her early life, though was not able to until she came to terms with her immediate predecessor, Kuruk.
Yangchen first appeared to Kyoshi in a spring located in the forests near Yokoya. Initially, the Earth Avatar thought she was speaking to Kuruk, and then gasped in shock, believing she was seeing the ghost of her Air Nomad mother, Jesa. After she realized who Yangchen was, she explained the confusion, causing the compassionate airbender to meet a tearful Kyoshi with a gentle embrace, and she told Kyoshi that all would be right.
Kyoshi raised that she had so many questions, as Yangchen was the first Avatar who could properly guide her. When Kyoshi explained her doubts about Kuruk hunting dark spirits, Yangchen explained that he was forced to take on the responsibility as a direct result of Yangchen's policies relating to spirits, and that every Avatar makes mistakes. She sensed Kyoshi's disappointment, but her successor simply responded that she was confused. She advised Kyoshi that she must give up looking for an easy answer, as even if she spent a thousand years talking to the past Avatars, she would not know how to best guide the world. Before she dissipated, she asked Kyoshi to replace a clay turtle that she had broken, a traditional relic that identified the Air Avatars.
Appearances during Aang's life
In 100 AG, Yangchen was sought out by Aang in the Spirit World, who was in a coma at the time. During their brief meeting, she discussed Aang's failure at protecting Ba Sing Se from Azula. Amid the young Avatar's embarrassment, Yangchen convinced him to not feel guilty for his shortcomings, as previous Avatars had also made mistakes and struggled to successfully perform their duties. Although she told Aang little about her personal experiences, she was empathetic toward his shame and sadness.
Yangchen also imparted to Aang the reason the Avatar takes human rebirth each time: in order to have a desire to protect humanity, the Avatar must feel compassion toward humans and the only way of doing so was living among them. If the Avatar was instead an all-powerful immortal spirit living at the top of a mountain, he or she would not have anything in common with ordinary people. She acknowledged that the Avatar must experience human life and emotions, such as sadness, anger, joy, and happiness, in order to learn how precious human life is and therefore understand the need to protect it. Thus, with every reincarnation, the spirit of the Avatar comes closer to fully comprehending what it truly means to be human.
At the end of the meeting, Yangchen told Aang that the spirit of the Avatar had been healed, though his ability to use the Avatar State was disrupted and he would, therefore, need to rely on his friends, not past lives, for guidance. As Aang departed, Yangchen told the young Avatar that the memory of his journey in the Spirit World would be erased once he awoke from his coma.
When on the lion turtle, Yangchen was the last of his past lives Aang summoned for advice on how to defeat Ozai without killing him, thinking a fellow Air Nomad would easily sympathize with his views and support a bloodless victory over the Fire Lord. Although Yangchen remarked the Air Nomad belief that all life was sacred, she reminded Aang that the Avatar could never detach themselves and achieve spiritual enlightenment as their sole duty was to the world. As such, she imparted him with the wisdom that selfless duty required him to sacrifice his own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world, which left Aang deeply discouraged.
In 102 AG, the day before Yangchen's Festival was to be celebrated, Yangchen appeared as a mysterious hooded figure to Aang in Yu Dao and led him onto a balcony. She tried to speak to him, though Aang could not hear her voice. After she disappeared, he eventually concluded that she came to remind him to revive the celebration. When Team Avatar subsequently made their way into a town that was built upon a meadow sacred to the Air Nomads, she appeared to Aang once more, leading him to investigate the grounds of the Earthen Fire Refinery and discover a polluted river. Some time later, she appeared a third time and imparted a vision upon him of a monster destroying a settlement, leaving him to wonder whether it was a vision of the past or the future.
Later that day, when Aang was saying a blessing before having the ceremonial meal of Yangchen's Festival with the Air Acolytes, he crossed over to the Spirit World, where he was able to fully connect with Yangchen. She explained to him that all the Avatars are connected to one another like a chain, so when he broke off his relationship with Roku, he also damaged his connection to all the Avatars that preceded him. However, traditions like the ceremonial meal served as a temporary conduit for them to connect. Yangchen told him of her past dealings with General Old Iron, though before she could complete her story and tell Aang the specifics of the deal she struck with the spirit, Aang's meditation was interrupted by another earthquake.
Aang later repaired the connection with his past lives by re-crafting the fire medallion on his meditation beads. After reconciling with Roku, Aang made his way down to Yangchen, whom he urged to finish her story. After she did, she confirmed that the metal that had been dug up was Old Iron's armor and warned Aang that his return was pending. As Yangchen lamented that her promise had been broken, Aang suggested that he could bury the armor once more and return the land to its natural state. She did not answer, instead telling Aang to return to his friends.
Appearances during Korra's life
Yangchen was among all the other Avatars when Aang passed on the knowledge of energybending to Korra and restored her bending, representing the newly established connection she made to her spiritual self.
While Unalaq was attacking Raava, Korra envisioned Yangchen among the Avatar lineup she had seen prior to regaining her bending; however, her connection to Korra was severed due to Unalaq's assault on and subsequent destruction of the light spirit.
Yangchen was an encouraging, empathetic woman toward others, including her successors, and was remembered for her great compassion. Above all, she was eager to perform her duty as the Avatar and had a strong desire to prove herself to her mentors, even putting on a facade of confidence during fearful situations. She was also open to different philosophies, and convinced that no absolute truths existed, including no absolutely correct way to act as Avatar.
Despite being raised by the Air Nomads and understanding their respect for all life, Yangchen put pacifism aside to fulfill her duties, believing that the goal of protecting the world and human emotions justified the means. In her duty of protecting life, Yangchen displayed a willingness to make deals with criminals to prevent bloodshed. Although the Air Nomads taught separation from the physical realm, she believed that the Avatar can never do this because their sole duty is to the world.
As a reincarnation of the entity known as the Avatar, Yangchen possessed the power to bend all four elements, making her the most powerful bender of her time.
Yangchen was an airbending master, having achieved arrow tattoos. While in her Avatar State, she could form circular air currents strong enough to even move the sky. She continued to hone her airbending skills even after her formal training had ended.
As the carrier of the Avatar Spirit, Yangchen had the capacity to act as a medium, a bridge between the mortal world and the Spirit World. She sensed and comprehended the complex nature of the Avatar Spirit, including its needs of human reincarnation.
- When abruptly asked for the name of the female airbender Avatar at the Pacific Media Expo, Bryan Konietzko jokingly dubbed her "Avatar Susan", indicating that they initially did not plan on developing the previous Avatars aside from the two already introduced.
- In Escape from the Spirit World, she was the only Avatar to not tell Aang of a mistake she made when she was alive.
- Yangchen liked to use the Avatar State to power her airbending in a meadow near Yaoping Town.
- Although Yangchen did not appear in The Last Airbender, the accompanying prequel manga, Zuko's Story, featured additional information about Yangchen, such as her building a hermitage near the Eastern Air Temple where she retired to in her later years.
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