|"Once again, the Earth Queen's reign has come to an abrupt and violent end. Ba Sing Se has descended into chaos. Rioters and looters have overrun the palace."|
|— A radio announcer on the anarchy in Ba Sing Se.|
The anarchy in the Earth Kingdom was the period of chaos and civil war from 171 to 174 AG that followed the breakdown of a united governmental power, law, and order after the assassination of Earth Queen Hou-Ting at the hands of the Red Lotus. After increasing social conflicts, poverty, and lawlessness under Hou-Ting's reactionary and authoritarian regime, the Red Lotus' insurrection sparked an open revolt by Ba Sing Se's lower class citizens. It became the first major popular uprising in the Earth Kingdom in over four hundred years. As a result, the central government collapsed, with violent unrest soon spreading throughout the whole kingdom.
Despite international efforts, the anarchy led to the complete fragmentation of the kingdom into smaller states, while well-equipped bandit groups began to terrorize the people. Eventually, the former guard captain of Zaofu, Kuvira, formed an army with the blessing of foreign powers and the exiled royal family, intending to reunite the Earth Kingdom. Becoming known as the "Great Uniter", she restored law and order in large parts of nation through military discipline. Her achievements were not met with universal acclaim, however, as some states resisted her rule and others believed her methods to be controversial at least. By 174 AG, the Earth Kingdom was stabilized enough to restore the monarchy, though Kuvira refused to relinquish her power to a king she deemed unfit to rule and declared the Earth Kingdom abolished in favor of the new Earth Empire under her leadership.
Social problems and oppression by the bureaucracy
Since the Peasant Uprising in Ba Sing Se, the Earth Kingdom had traditionally been a constitutional monarchy, with the government controlled by officials and bureaucrats and the earth monarch left in a relatively weak position. The central government's power was largely restricted to the capital, while local nobles had the true power elsewhere in the kingdom.
At the same time, poverty was a significant problem in the Earth Kingdom, with a large wealth gap between lower class citizens and the nobility, especially in the cities. For a long time, the government was only able to suppress social unrest by strict class separation and oppression through the Dai Li. While this oppression was strongest in Ba Sing Se, people in rural areas were also abused and robbed by officials and the military. Due to a weak central government, the standard of living and taxing of citizens differed greatly from region to region; people living in Omashu, for example, enjoyed a rather good and undisturbed life. In the course of the Conspiracy of Ba Sing Se, the officials and the Dai Li increasingly abused the constitution and their positions to gather power and wealth, reducing the 52nd Earth King, Kuei, to a mere figurehead. Due to his complete absence from the public, the king became a detached, godlike being for the common citizens. As a result, the people distrusted and feared the bureaucracy, while supporting the monarchy. Once Earth King Kuei returned to the throne after the Hundred Year War and regained the power his predecessors had lost due to the Peasant Uprising, many citizens were content and satisfied. Kuei attempted to be a strong but benevolent monarch, but he could not solve the massive social problems his nation faced even with government reforms.
Deterioration under Hou-Ting
This unstable situation took a turn for the worse when Queen Hou-Ting came to power. Unlike Kuei, the Queen was more concerned with her possessions and power than with the welfare and freedom of her people, using the Dai Li to round up dissidents and detain them without trial. Mass poverty grew worse and the slums in Ba Sing Se gradually expanded, home to a dissatisfied, frustrated population. At the same time, Hou-Ting transformed her government into a centralist autocracy, having deprived the bureaucrats of their remaining power and reducing the Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se to a servant of the monarch. In addition, the central government exercised greater scrutiny and authority over provinces outside of the capital, contrary to their predecessors' leniency, even though some places maintained great autonomy. By 171 AG, her rule was so unpopular that minor revolts broke out in rural areas. The rebels intercepted taxes, as they argued the money belonged the people, not the queen. Hou-Ting's behavior led some Earth Kingdom citizens to believe that the monarchy was outdated and should be abolished. This growing unrest presented the Red Lotus with the perfect opportunity to start their insurrection.
However, not all parts of the Earth Kingdom succumbed to Hou-Ting's regime. The city state of Zaofu followed Suyin Beifong's progressive ideology concerning modernization and self-fulfillment. As a result, many Zaofu citizens, including Suyin herself, believed the monarchy to be archaic and unsuitable to rule the Earth lands. These teachings had also a great impact on the city's guard captain, Kuvira, who would later use them as reason for her military and political actions.
Assassination of the Earth Queen
In 171 AG, a group of Red Lotus members presented the wanted Mako and Bolin as a gift for Hou-Ting in order to gain the Queen's trust and persuade her to hand Avatar Korra over to them. The deal fell through, however, when the Red Lotus learned that Korra had escaped. Barging into the throne room, the anarchists dispatched the Dai Li agents protecting the Earth Queen and Zaheer airbent the air out of Hou-Ting's lungs, suffocating her. Later, they broke into a radio operator's room and broadcasted that the Earth Queen was dead; while this was happening, Ghazan destroyed a section of the wall separating the lower and middle rings. With the walls down, Zaheer proclaimed that they brought the city back to the people much to their joy. The Lower Ring citizens, furious about their poverty and the rampant social inequality, promptly invaded the Upper and Middle Rings with the intent to take back what they saw as theirs.
Burning of Ba Sing Se and spreading chaos
Law and order collapsed throughout the city almost immediately. As Hou-Ting had intentionally disempowered the bureaucracy and administration, there was no one left in the government to fill the void her death had caused. Consequently, remnants of the Queen's government had neither the means nor the authority to bring Ba Sing Se back under control. Lower Ring citizens began rioting and looting the middle and upper rings of the city, plundering the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace in the process. Even some Royal Earthbender Guards, traditionally loyal to the government, defected and joined the looters. Other loyalists scattered and went into hiding. Ba Sing Se airships docked at the palace were dismantled or stolen. Even though the Middle and Upper Ring were the first to suffer from the chaos, by evening that day anarchy had also spread to the Lower Ring. A massive fire broke out, consuming large parts of the capital.
Powerless and threatened by these developments, the royal cabinet, several government officials, and the royal family scattered and fled the country. Prince Wu, heir to the Earth Kingdom throne, took refuge in the United Republic of Nations. After the resulting collapse of the central government, the rest of the Earth Kingdom also fell into a state of anarchy and chaos. As the Avatar remained weakened after her fight with the Red Lotus, she was unable to intervene and needed time to recuperate. As such, Tenzin decided that the Air Nation would follow Avatar Korra's example of service and sacrifice and help maintain balance and restore order in the world.
Fragmentation and reunification
With the loss of the central government, many cities and provinces throughout the kingdom chose to fend for themselves and fragmented into independent states. With the Air Nation spread too thin to pacify the enormous nation and despite the efforts to return a member of the royal family to the throne, balance and peace remained largely absent, with bandit groups expanding exponentially. Some of these criminal groups grew into small armies with hundreds of members, equipped with modern technology like biplanes.
After the defeat of the Red Lotus, Suyin Beifong was called upon to help reunite the kingdom as she was deemed the perfect person for the job, considering she had the trust of the world leaders and credibility in the Earth Kingdom as a Beifong. Despite her anti-monarchical views, she refused the offer, not wanting to seize power for herself. Kuvira, however, believed this to be a chance to make a difference in the world and decided to disobey the matriarch. Together with Baatar Jr., she secretly convinced large parts of Zaofu's security forces and some of its richest citizens to join her in her quest to reunite the Earth Kingdom. After they were successful in stabilizing Ba Sing Se, Kuvira gained the trust of the world leaders and was appointed the provisional head of the nation.
Kuvira continued her quest to stabilize and reunite the Earth Kingdom and, by 174 AG, she had reunited ninety percent of the nation with military force, earning her the nickname "Great Uniter", though many saw her as a conqueror. To stabilize the conquered areas in the long term, Kuvira's forces initiated a secret purge of dissidents, political enemies and citizens of non-Earth Kingdom origin, sending them into prison-like reeducation camps. One of the last states to oppose her was Yi, though it too submitted to her rule after bandits threatened to starve the state's population. With the country largely pacified and the anarchy effectively ended, Prince Wu was set to be crowned king and return to the Earth Kingdom capital, having taken refuge in Republic City until his nation could be stabilized. His ascension was supported by international powers but opposed by Kuvira and her followers.
After Wu's coronation as the Earth Kingdom's new king, Kuvira promptly denounced his authority and declared the Earth Kingdom abolished in favor of the foundation of the "Earth Empire" under her leadership, threatening to crush any person or power that would stand against the new country. Her stance steered the Earth Kingdom into a civil war between the Earth Kingdom loyalists and those supporting the new Earth Empire.