The Price of Power - Ba Sing Se and Eunuchs in the Forbidden City
ATLA draws significantly from Imperial China, especially the Qing dynasty, for Ba Sing Se. Since Ba Sing Se itself undeniably resembles Beijing. The Earth King’s palace is based on the Forbidden City, and, as I have pointed out before, Kuei himself is based on Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty.
With canon drawing such close parallels to imperial China I would like to point out some of the more sinister parallels that are not openly explained in the show but can easily be drawn if you take what is there to its logical historical parallel and conclusion.
Now, I have no idea if this was intended by the creators or not, but when you draw a lot from one historic time period/culture you inadvertently end up implying that the gaps in your worldbuilding can be filled with bits and pieces from said period/culture.
Eunuchs in Imperial China
Eunuchs were generally the only men other than the emperor who were allowed to enter the inner courtyards of the Forbidden City, where the imperial family and concubines lived. Other men, including officials, military guards and even male relatives of the emperor, were not only not allowed to enter the inner sanctums but were often required to leave the palace grounds at night. (1)
What does this mean for ATLA?
Long Feng’s history and backstory match with historic precedent.
Kuei became King at a very young age. Long Feng was Kuei’s mentor and regent. He quickly seized power and ruled in Kuei’s stead.
Further, when Long Feng confronts Azula and ultimate get betrayed by the Dai Li and hands the city to her, she points out that he comes from low beginnings.
The heir, born in a the palace, grew up under the constant tutelage of the eunuchs. When such an emperor, still a child succeeded to the throne, the imperial eunuchs would control the child-emperor’s decisions or those of the empress-regent. These eunuchs…were usually drawn from the lowest levels of society. Having no future outside the palace, they had no reason not to merit their reputation for being mercenary and unscrupulous. (1)
In conclusion: It seems Long Feng paid a high price for his power.
Further, as a side note: ATLA is not the only kids show to have gone there.
Disney does it in Mulan. Remember Chi-Fu, the guy in blue?
Eunuchs were easily recognizable by their high falsetto voices (for which they were derisively called “crows”), as well as their want of beards, their cringing, hang-dog demeanor … Low-ranking eunuchs wore a long grey robe under a shorter dark blue coat, and had to wear their official hats and boots when on duty. (2)
Yeaaaah. Those ‘scream like a girl’ jokes make a lot more sense now …
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