Avatar the Last Airbender takes place in the middle of a hundred-year war. The universe illustrates the different traumas and realities that living during such uncertain times inflicts on the people involved. As the diverse storytelling touches on some heavier topics, there are many examples showing that the world of war is not always black and white like Long Feng.
We see this with characters like Zuko or Jet, who really complicate our understanding of good and bad. Particularly, is someone really an evil bad guy if what they’re doing seems right?
Of all the “evil-doers” of the show, Long Feng is one character exhibited as inherently evil. As kids, it’s easy to see how this bison-stealing official is a bad guy, but taking a look again, were we a little harsh on the Grand Secretariat?
Who Is Long Feng?
Before going into this argument, you may need a bit of a refresher. Back in Book Two: Earth of ATLA, our gang finds their way to Ba Sing Se. The once-great city that managed to stand its ground throughout the way managed to surprisingly stay the same throughout the years- The city seems strong, prosperous, and otherwise oblivious of the war around them. Even the King seems to have no idea what is going on in terms of the fire nation.
The King is not the only one seemingly oblivious to everything. That’s when we meet his Grand Secretariat (and leader of the Dai Li Secret Police), Long Feng. He’s a formidable and charismatic individual that screams politician. He’s also the guy covering up war evidence and keeping up the image of a peaceful and prosperous nation despite everything going on.
Long Feng has a classic rag to riches story and made his way from the bottom to the top. He went from the son of a merchant to the most powerful man in the entire city (considering that the King was essentially his puppet).
The War and Ba Sing Se
The whole “there is no war in Ba Sing Se” became a funny meme – but it doesn’t change the fact it was creepy and an illustration of a real problem. Although their little Utopia felt cut off from the rest of the world, it couldn’t be that they managed to stay naïve this whole time, right?
It’s pretty impossible for a nation to have gone this long without recognizing a blazing war surrounding them. Above that, there are refugees and other people that surely must have heard of the war. Even beloved Uncle Iroh went against (and lost) to the powerful city. It doesn’t take the gang very long to realize that there really is something wrong with the city.
Instead of people being genuinely oblivious, the situation was more that they were forced to keep quiet. It was difficult to tell in the beginning why this would happen at all – until they uncovered the crimes of Long Feng. This is where things really start to get tricky.
It turns out – Long Feng was knowingly doing this so that he may preserve a Utopia. His argument was that keeping the King and citizens in the dark was how he was to maintain the last remaining Utopia?
Was Long Feng Evil?
This is the whole part where the gang argues that he’s wrong, and he fights back. Of course, the antagonist to our protagonist is always the bad guy. And let’s be frank, Long Feng did a bunch of evil things. Ignoring the whole lying bit – he committed some serious crimes. He’s responsible for kidnappings, brainwashing, imprisonment, and murder!
He took away free speech from his people and forced a strict dictatorship onto his citizens, all in the name of keeping up the image. There is also something pretty dystopian about the entire situation. The government controlling you and keeping big secrets is something that has kept conspiracists baffled for years – in the real world. The entire situation at Ba Sing Se is one that people have a fear of in real life as there is always a debate on how much control the government should have and what can go wrong when they keep secrets to try to protect its people.
Still – while we’ll never justify murder, you have to admit that it seems like Long Feng had good enough intentions when you really think about it. The hundred-year war destroyed nations all over the world. During Avatar’s adventures, we got a glimpse into lives where families were torn apart, genocides were committed, and other atrocities took place in the name of trying to win. Even if you aren’t directly affected, it’s a pretty difficult topic to swallow.
There were many nations in the earth kingdom decimated by the fire nation – Ba Sing Se was just strong enough to stand their ground. They didn’t even turn away refugees, just tried to make it, so their stories weren’t heard – which is bad, but you do have to really question the intentions of Long Feng.
Even when he was called out, and the King tried to imprison him for treason, the secret police remained loyal to him. Of course, while their loyalty was shotty, he seemed to act in intentions to remain leader over Ba Sing Se. He didn’t want Ba Sing Se to end up in the hands of the fire nation, and he was willing to cross some lines to get there.
Sure, he is power-hungry and manipulative, but when you think about the alternative, can you really blame the guy? Think of all the horrible things that happened to nations under the control of the fire nation. In a way, one could argue that he wasn’t evil; he just had a poor way of getting there.
Was Long Feng Successful?
In the end, he bites off more than he can chew. While he is under lock and key, Princess Azula and her crew mask themselves as Kyoshi Warriors and break-in. Seeing this as the opportunity of a lifetime, he conspires with Azula to take everyone down on the condition he would get the right to rule Ba Sing Se.
She agrees with him, and in return, he “gives” her the secret police loyalty. While she does use them to battle off the Avatar and crew, she also does some pretty expected double-crossing. While Avatar and company do get away (with Appa in tow), it was a horrible battle. Aang gets killed by Azula, and there’s that whole drama with Zuko double-crossing Iroh. Of course, Katara saves Aang with the magic water, and Zuko finds his road to redemption, but no one could really count this battle as a win for the “good guys.”
To add insult to injury, Azula takes control of Ba Sing Se. When Long Feng tries to take control over his secret police – he realizes that he is no longer in control at all. In all of his efforts to keep control over the city, he handed it over to the fire nation. This is a pretty predictable move that was easily avoided by not getting buddy-buddy with Azula. Whether or not it was a bigger blow to him that his city lost their illusion of peace (or that he lose power) is up for debate.
What Happed to Long Feng?
The nail in the coffin here is that the once great and powerful Long Feng is never mentioned again. He is merely a footnote on a horrible and embarrassing event that would be undone anyways once the fire nation loses the war. What happens to him while the fire nation rules and after isn’t known at all.
We can speculate a bit here, though. Frankly, Azula doesn’t seem like someone who would just let him walk away from the incident (although he’d have absolutely nothing to run away to). Aside from ruling the secret police, Long Feng was an accomplished bender as well. He’s capable of being a formidable foe, so it makes sense to just lock him away.
Following the end of the war, imprisonment is pretty likely considering his stance with the Avatar gang and his entire collection of crimes. After all, he was the one who kept Appa as a hostage and murdered Jet. While he was totally doing some horrible things, you just really have to wonder if it is fair to call him evil.
What do you think about Long Feng? Are there any other characters you think were portrayed a little unfairly? Let us know in the comments below.