Ba Sing Se
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The city is by far the largest in the World of Avatar, essentially being more of a small country than a mere city. As a testament to its grandeur, the Earth Kingdom's roadway network is centered on the city. Ba Sing Se means "Impenetrable City"; it is so named for its world-famous walls, the gates of which have no hinges or other hardware and are opened by the use of earthbending. Within the Outer Wall lies a large expanse of farmland, Lake Laogai, and several mountains. The Inner Wall encloses the city itself. The metropolis is also notable for having a unique system of walls dividing the populace into different parts of the city based on social status.
Ba Sing Se was the safest place for refugees displaced by the Hundred Year War because of the Fire Nation's failure to penetrate its walls. However, it was eventually captured by the Fire Nation in the Coup of Ba Sing Se. The city was later liberated by the Order of the White Lotus in the final battle of the War.
Ba Sing Se is arguably one of the oldest settlements in the world. A five-thousand year old map featuring the city was found in Wan Shi Tong's Library, which suggests it is at least that old. Early in its history, Ba Sing Se was a small subterranean city carved out of rocks by earthbenders. As the benders excavated further, they came across beautiful illuminated crystals and began to mine them. The crystals currently serve as a common light source for Earth Kingdom inhabitants. Eventually, as the metropolis' expansion reached the surface, the catacombs were abandoned. The city continued to grow and eventually became the capital of the newly unified Earth Kingdom.
Ba Sing Se has been hailed for its insurmountable fortifications, having remained unconquered for centuries prior to the Hundred Year War. During Chin the Conqueror's largely successful campaign to unite the Earth Kingdom under his control, Ba Sing Se was the only territory to remain unconquered besides the peninsula where Avatar Kyoshi lived. Apparently, Chin would rather face the Avatar herself than try his luck at the Great Wall of Ba Sing Se.
After Chin's death, a peasant uprising erupted against the corrupt and inefficient government of the 46th Earth King. The peasants felt that the Earth King's role was outdated and that he did not represent their interests. Avatar Kyoshi managed to quell the revolt by forcing the King to accept the peasants' demands in exchange for creating the Dai Li to protect the government's interests and cultural heritage.
The city's Outer Wall has been breached on only four occasions: The first was by Fire Nation military forces led by General Iroh, the legendary "Dragon of the West". This attack, a part of his six-hundred-day siege of the city, was quickly driven back by the city's guardian forces after he was disheartened by the death of his son, Lu Ten. Years later, the Fire Nation used a great drill to bore through the Outer Wall, but Aang and his friends stopped the machine before the army could take advantage of the hole. By the end of the spring of 100 AG, however, Ba Sing Se had fallen to the hands of the Fire Nation through an internal coup d'état led by Princess Azula, who manipulated the Dai Li into destroying a portion of the city's wall to let Fire Nation troops in. Finally, at the end of the summer, the walls were again breached by Iroh, this time leading the Order of the White Lotus, using a colossal fire blast strengthened by Sozin's Comet.
Prior to Team Avatar's arrival in the city, the Earth King had become a figurehead as Long Feng took control of the Dai Li and created a conspiracy to strengthen his power. On the surface, the city was a safe haven against the Fire Nation, but in reality, it was an increasingly weakened state wreaked by political corruption.
Fall of Ba Sing Se
Princess Azula and her allies, Mai and Ty Lee, disguised themselves as Kyoshi Warriors in order to enter Ba Sing Se as the Earth King's honored guests. Azula allowed her group's true identity to be uncovered by the Dai Li, who forcefully took her to speak with Long Feng. The two allied with each other in order to stage a coup against the Earth King and the Council of Five. As part of the deal, Azula took command of the Dai Li and coordinated the simultaneous capture of the Earth King and the Council of Five, gaining control over the city. Long Feng was in turn released from his prison cell. He attempted to double-cross Azula, but without the support of the Dai Li, he realized any such effort would be futile and submitted to her will. By the following summer, the city was firmly controlled by Fire Nation forces, who gained access to the city as the Dai Li tore down large sections of the Outer and Inner Walls. The citizens could only look on in horror as the Fire Nation military seized control of the city.
With the arrival of Sozin's Comet, the Order of the White Lotus attacked and liberated Ba Sing Se from the Fire Nation. Iroh personally burned away the Fire Nation banner that concealed the original emblem of the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace. After Zuko was crowned Fire Lord, Team Avatar celebrated their victory at the Jasmine Dragon, a tea shop owned by Iroh. Kuei returned to Ba Sing Se and re-assumed his position as Earth King.
As the capital of the Earth Kingdom, Ba Sing Se is home to the Earth King, ruler of the Earth Kingdom. However, for a period of time after the death of the 51st Earth King, true power belonged to the city's Grand Secretariat, Long Feng. As Head of the Dai Li, he enforced strict laws within the city, designed to keep him in power and keep knowledge of the war from the King. It was absolutely forbidden to mention the war with the Fire Nation within the city, and those who did were arrested and re-educated in secret Dai Li facilities to believe that the war did not exist. According to Long Feng, his measures were necessary to maintain Ba Sing Se's cultural heritage and to ensure that the city remained a thriving utopia. In truth, however, they were merely tools used to uphold his totalitarian dictatorship.
Though the Earth King had Long Feng arrested, Long Feng allied himself with Azula to engineer a coup d'état. He was eventually betrayed by his own Dai Li and ultimately surrendered the city to the Princess of the Fire Nation.
The position of the Earth King was abolished after the Fire Nation took control of the city, sending Earth King Kuei into exile. He was replaced with Joo Dee, a puppet ruler with the title "Supreme Bureaucratic Administrator of Ba Sing Se". The Earth King's position was reestablished when Earth King Kuei returned from his exile after the city was liberated.
Royal Earthbender Guards
- Main article: Royal Earthbender Guards
The Royal Earthbender Guards of Ba Sing Se serve as personal protectors of the Earth King. They wear dark green armor with a green plume on the top of their helmets and are not affiliated with the Dai Li or the military. They are seen guarding the Royal Palace and acting as the gate keepers of the outer and inner walls of Ba Sing Se. Their weapons include surface-to-surface or surface-to-air rocks against intruders, which they displayed when Team Avatar was storming the Royal Palace.
- Main article: Terra Team
The Terra Team, commanded by General Sung, is a platoon of elite earthbenders that guard the walls of Ba Sing Se. The Terra Team was ordered to destroy the Fire Nation drill, but was easily defeated by Mai and Ty Lee.
- Main article: Dai Li
The Dai Li were an elite organization of earthbenders and the secret police of Ba Sing Se who worked to capture, interrogate, and imprison political dissidents. They were created by Avatar Kyoshi after the peasant uprising with the aim of "protecting the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se". Instead, through the careful political manipulation of Long Feng, they became the illegitimate governing force of Ba Sing Se.
The Dai Li later abandoned their loyalty to the Earth Kingdom and Long Feng and pledged loyalty to Princess Azula of the Fire Nation after she took control of Ba Sing Se. They are the only known force of earthbenders to defect to the Fire Nation and conspire against their own nation.
During Long Feng's conspiracy, Law and order was maintained under the strictest of police forces to ensure that the city's populace remained loyal to the government. Nevertheless, the people of Ba Sing Se have a variety of recreational activities available to them including spas, poetry houses, shops, restaurants, and the Ba Sing Se Zoo. Tea-drinking is one of the most common ways citizens relax after work, while strolls around the parks and shops of the Middle Ring are also enjoyed. Earthbenders are highly valued and operate many civic projects, from the monorail system to the city's gates. A higher education can be gathered at the Ba Sing Se University.
The architecture of Ba Sing Se is slightly different from standard Earth Kingdom designs. The majority of the buildings are made of stone, with wood supports and plaster covering the outside. The color of roofing tiles on buildings indicate their prestige and vary by ring – Lower Ring buildings have black or dark green tiles, Middle Ring buildings have vibrant green, and the Upper Ring nobility uses yellow tiles as a sign of class. Earth Kingdom symbols are often placed on gates, government buildings, and military sites. Roads in the Middle and Upper rings are made of flagstones, while the Lower Ring has muddy dirt paths for most of its streets and alleys. The citizens of Ba Sing Se sport considerably more color variation in their clothing than citizens from other locations—blues, turquoises, browns, and golds can all be seen among the aristocracy, while the lower class usually wears browns, greens, and off-whites, although other colors can be seen.
The city is divided between its various social classes; the peasants and refugees live in the ghettos of the Lower Ring, which is walled off from the rest of the metropolis. Aang once mentioned that the fact that people were separated by class was why the monks did not want to visit Ba Sing Se. Society is heavily controlled, and during the Hundred Year War, the conflict was not allowed to be mentioned inside the walls. This was meant to maintain order and the cultural heritage of the city, allegedly making it the only remaining "Utopia" in the world. The people of Ba Sing Se considered their city to be impregnable, and thus they often deluded themselves into pretending that all is fine in the rest of the Kingdom. In the past, those who attempted to disrupt this fantasy were promptly brainwashed by the Dai Li into believing that the world was at peace, instilling loyalty in the victim.
Ba Sing Se is divided into several major districts, with inhabitants sorted in various walled "rings" based on economic and social class. These range from the Lower Ring, a place of ghettos inhabited by refugees and the poor, to the Upper Ring, home of the Kingdom's ruling classes and the rich. Travel throughout the city, in addition to entering and exiting it, is provided by large, earthbending powered monorails, constructed during the reign of Earth King Yi Ming. The monorails meet in large transit stations, are free to the general public, and make travel within the city much easier. Citizens are free to travel between the Agrarian Zone, the Lower Ring, and the Middle Ring. The Upper Ring is a particularly exclusive area of the city; it is restricted to citizens with the personal invitation of a citizen of the Upper Ring, the government, or the Earth King himself.
At one hundred meters tall, Ba Sing Se's Outer Wall is the city's first, and thickest, line of defense. This makes it the largest man-made structure in the world. The wall encircles all of Ba Sing Se, along with the vast Agrarian Zone and a medium-sized lake. It is considered indestructible and is commonly incorporated on maps as a terrain feature. In fact, it has only been breached three times: twice by General Iroh and once by the Fire Nation drill. The Dai Li mandates that soldiers and sentries be placed on the wall at all times, with many of them living in built-in homes inside the wall. After the Coup of Ba Sing Se, Dai Li agents tore a hole in the wall to allow Fire Nation soldiers through. The tear had not been repaired by the time the Order of the White Lotus attacked and the wall was not being monitored at the time.
Just outside of the Lower Ring, between the Outer Wall and the Inner Wall of the city, is the Agrarian Zone, a large underdeveloped area that consists of wide open plains of land, used mainly for agricultural purposes. Along with its vital wildlife and crop resources, the Agrarian Zone functions as a massive land buffer between the Outer Wall and the Inner Wall, where all of the Ba Sing Se residents dwell, widening the gap between invaders and citizens if perchance the Outer Wall was ever breached. This area in the city houses many farms belonging to citizens, mostly of the Lower Ring, who live behind the Inner Wall and travel outside to tend to the land every day.
The Agrarian Zone served as a station for earthbender rebellions following Ba Sing Se's capture. The Order of the White Lotus had a camp here prior to the arrival of Sozin's Comet. The Agrarian Zone is also the location of the new Ba Sing Se Zoo.
The Inner Wall is a massive earthen barrier that serves as the primary protector of the actual city of Ba Sing Se after the Outer Wall and the vast Agrarian Zone. During the war, it was constantly guarded by earthbenders who could create an opening in it to allow incoming and exiting traffic. Due to the limited space the wall allowed for the expanding city, some of the Lower Ring houses were built directly against the wall. When the city fell during the Hundred Year War, dozens of Dai Li agents brought this wall down along with the Outer Wall to grant the Fire Nation Army access to the entire city.
The Lower Ring is home to the poor classes of Ba Sing Se's society and the majority of its population. These consist of newcomers to the city, including its multitude of refugees, and people who work with their hands such as artisans, laborers, and craftsman. Due to the impoverished state of the citizens of the Lower Ring, as well as the influx of refugees, the crime rate is significantly higher. The Lower Ring is also the most densely populated area of Ba Sing Se. Buildings in the Lower Ring are generally small, because the Lower Ring houses the majority of the populace and many people need to be crammed into the space available. The roofs of most buildings in the ring are brown tiled, indicating the poor status of the owners. "Lower Ring" is written in Chinese as .
The Middle Ring of Ba Sing Se contains the city's middle-class populace. Inside this ring are a vast assortment of shops and restaurants as well as the financial district and Town Hall, one of the oldest buildings in the Middle Ring. Ba Sing Se University, a great repository of knowledge and a key landmark of the city, is also located in this area. The buildings of this Ring are larger than those of the Lower Ring, and the roofs are tiled green. It is generally wealthier and has a more peaceful atmosphere than the Lower Ring, and there are many flowers and trees. Citizens of the Middle Ring are free to enter the Agrarian Zone, Lower Ring, Middle Ring and the Upper Ring without needing permission."Middle Ring" is written in Chinese as .
The most affluent of the three rings, the Upper Ring contains the city's upper class population, as well as military and government officials. The most important citizens of the city reside here, protected against criminal activity by the presence of the Dai Li. The Royal Palace is located in the center of the Upper Ring, within its own walls. Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph received a home positioned in the Upper Ring. The buildings of the Upper Ring are generally huge walled compounds, much like small versions of the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace itself, and the roofs are done with yellow tiles to symbolize the richness of the building and its owners. Upper Ring Citizens are free to go wherever they please within Ba Sing Se. "Upper Ring" is written in Chinese as .
- Main article: Earth Kingdom Royal Palace
The royal palace, located in the Upper Ring of the city, houses the seat of government of the Earth Kingdom, including the Earth King or Earth Queen. It has been the seat of power for every known earth monarch. The palace is large and houses not only the earth monarch and their family, but their several hundred guards and servants as well.
Located within the Upper Ring, at the center of Ba Sing Se, the Earth King's palace and surrounding grounds are the spiritual and military center of the entire Earth Kingdom. Here is where the Earth King spends all his days. The palace is structured around a meridian line that cuts through the center of the city, from west to east. The meridian line leads directly to the Earth King's throne. The grounds consist of numerous ceremonial temples, quarters to house the King's servants, elaborate gardens, and the King's menagerie of exotic animals.
Common citizens are forbidden from entering the Earth King's walled domain unless they have a personal invitation from the king.
South of Ba Sing Se, the fighting cliffs, one white and the other red, face each other with a wide ravine between them. Early Earth Kingdom natives noticed that the ground of the ravine was charred and black, and legend holds that the cliffs were created in an ancient battle between earthbenders and firebenders, the conflict being so awesome that the very ground they fought on soaked up their power and animosity. The cliffs are currently mined for spark rocks, small stones used by Earth Kingdom citizens to start fires.
Ba Sing Se University
- Main article: Ba Sing Se University
This university is a prominent feature of the Middle Ring and a great center of learning. Although it was somewhat tainted by the interference of the Dai Li and Long Feng, it is still one of the greatest centers of learning in the world. Music, zoology, architecture, anthropology, art, geography, history, political science, astrology, science, engineering, mathematics, and drama are just some of the classes taught here.
Council's War Room
The Council's War Room is a large room located in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se where the Council of Five meets to discuss war plans before sending them to the Earth King for final approval. Prior to the Earth King's revelation regarding the war, the Generals would send their plans to Grand Secretariat Long Feng for approval. On the floor of the room is a large map of the world, with colored stone tokens spread across it to represent military units. The Generals move these tokens around with earthbending to deduce the most effective battle strategies. It is here where General How and the others made the decision to use General Fong's base as the launching point for the Fire Nation invasion.
Crystal Catacombs of Old Ba Sing Se
- Main article: Crystal Catacombs
Underneath the palace, and possibly much of the city, lies Old Ba Sing Se, an ancient underground city deep within the earth. These catacombs are the remnants of the first settlement in the area, carved underground by earthbenders. As the old city spread to the surface, the caverns were abandoned and eventually buried beneath the new city. Inside the interior of Old Ba Sing Se still lie ancient stone structures, a waterfall and pool, and the luminescent green crystals that gave Ba Sing Se its fame.
- Main article: Firelight Fountain
Located in the Lower Ring, the Firelight Fountain is popular with citizens who come to feed the turtle ducks in the day, and considered by Jin to be the most romantic spot in town at night. Jin's mom and dad sneaked out to meet here as teenagers, and Jin took Zuko here at the end of their date.
The fountain is encircled by lanterns that brighten the entire area. There is a stone structure in the middle with a top center lamp and a lower level of lamps, and lanterns floating in the water.
Fancy Lady Day Spa
- Main article: Fancy Lady Day Spa
The Fancy Lady Day Spa is an Upper Ring establishment for pampering noblewomen that has a university attached to it where students can experiment with new ideas on actual customers who, in return, receive a discount on their spa day. Its popularity attracted Katara and Toph during their day off, and they both enjoyed their experience there despite the latter's early misgivings.
Ba Sing Se Zoo
- Main article: Ba Sing Se Zoo
The Ba Sing Se Zoo was originally located in the city, but was moved by Aang to the Agrarian Zone during the final months of the Hundred Year War. It is managed and maintained by Kenji.
When Aang was traveling through Ba Sing Se, he saw a variety of animals that seemed miserable in their cages. Kenji, the zookeeper, informed the young Avatar that the Dai Li had ceased funding for the zoo because it was no longer popular with the children, which was a result of the poor condition of the zoo that could not be fixed unless he received the proper funds. After some degree of chaos, the animals were relocated to the zoo's new location. Several domesticated animals were caught up in the chaos of the move, winding up enclosed with the zoo animals.
Middle Ring restaurant
- Main article: Middle Ring restaurant
Located in the Middle Ring, this "hidden jewel" may never rise above its "B" rating to attract the oval-ring set, but is considered a "charming", "reasonably priced" place with "real bistro atmosphere", and a "rare find" popular with the Ba Sing Se and Spa University sets. The Middle Ring restaurant offers a "Tourist Menu" and an "unbelievably complex" fried appetizer sampler platter. Jin took Zuko here for dinner on their date.
Pao Family Tea House
- Main article: Pao Family Tea House
This Lower Ring establishment is where Zuko and Iroh were able to find work when they first came to Ba Sing Se. Soon after joining, Iroh greatly improved the quality of the tea and became the official tea maker of Pao's restaurant. Pao would later lose Iroh to the wealthy merchant Quon, who offered Iroh and Zuko their own tea shop and house in the Upper Ring. Despite Iroh leaving and the quality of tea declining, Pao's tea shop would survive and would later serve as a hiding spot for Pao, Jin, and several of Pao's customers when the Fire Nation took Ba Sing Se.
The Jasmine Dragon
- Main article: Jasmine Dragon
An Upper Ring tea shop created, funded, and stocked by Quon for Iroh after Quon managed to poach Iroh from his original employer under whom Iroh gained notoriety as the best tea maker in Ba Sing Se. Staffed by several hostesses and waiters in addition to Zuko and Iroh, it gained huge popularity under Iroh's management and flourished until the fall of Ba Sing Se when Iroh was forced back to the Fire Nation as a prisoner. After Iroh reopened his shop it regained its former popularity and served as a meeting place for Team Avatar after the War's end.
Iroh and Zuko's apartment
- Main article: Iroh and Zuko's apartment
A multi-level Upper Ring apartment provided by Quon for Iroh and Zuko as part of his business agreement with Iroh over the Jasmine Dragon. It is an average Upper Ring building with a nice lawn and view. It comfortably houses Iroh and Zuko and even has a large kitchen for Iroh to brew tea in.
Team Avatar's home
- Main article: Team Avatar's home
A single story Upper Ring house provided by the government of Ba Sing Se for Team Avatar to use during their wait for an audience with the Earth King. It has a large main hall, three bedrooms, and one washroom, as well as a beautiful porch and yard. The house was damaged when Toph got excited and earth bent when Aang had announced Team Avatar would no longer play by the rules of Ba Sing Se. The destroyed corner was covered up and repairs began promptly.
Ba Sing Se Monorail
- Main article: Ba Sing Se Monorail
The Ba Sing Se Monorail system has many stations around the city that have served as the backdrop to several events. Team Avatar first met Joo Dee at a monorail station and Jet realized that Iroh and Zuko were firebenders at a monorail station. Monorail stations are also located in near every part of Ba Sing Se, ranging from the Outer Wall to the heart of the city.
Ba Sing Se's greatest secret to its staying a power in the war was the farmland behind its Outer Wall. These fields supply the entire city with food to enable them to survive a siege for any duration, so long as the Outer Wall remains intact and, due to earthbending, can be quickly repaired. It was apparently breached during Iroh's siege, however, the city survived, as the siege broke shortly thereafter. A small fraction of food in Ba Sing Se comes from the butcher shops within the city.
Real life references
Ba Sing Se's design resembles that of Beijing, China, in that there are several inner districts which each host a separate social class, with the Royal Palace area being based upon the Forbidden City, and each outer district being reserved for each respective class in an organized status system. The Great Wall of China's size and scale also bears strong resemblance to the design of the Outer Wall.
Apart from this, the fact that Ba Sing Se was ruled by Long Feng and his Dai Li secret police resembles how Imperial China was ruled in the later dynasties: controlled from behind the scenes by the Emperor's servants, the eunuchs. The Dai Li resemble the Jinyi wei, the Imperial Chinese secret police who were specialized in stealth, persecution, and elimination of undesirable members of the society. The title of Grand Secretariat was a Ming dynasty title to indicate the person who commanded the Six Ministries. However, since they screened documents before the Emperor's approval, many tried to seize power from within the system, much as how Long Feng did to Kuei.
Ba Sing Se's rooftiles resemble the colors commonly found in ancient Chinese cities, where brown tones were used for commoner housing, green tiles for bureaucrats, minor officers, and civil servants, and gold-yellow ones were reserved for nobility, temples, the Palace, and other important members of ancient Chinese society.
Ba Sing Se also resembles Constantinople, which was known for its autocratic leadership, massive size, and huge population. Both cities were also packed with refugees during major wars. The two metropolises also boasted nearly impregnable walls that thwarted all invaders.
Ba Sing Se also resembles ancient Mesopotamia, where a wall surrounded the city, and other walls divided it inside. This trait of walls for defense and separation was shared by almost all of the important cities in Ancient China as well.
- Ba Sing Se's sunsets are considered by some to be the most romantic in the world.
- The Earth King's palace in Ba Sing Se resembles the Forbidden City of China.
- The first known military official able to penetrate the Outer Wall was the Dragon of the West, or Iroh, who reached the Agrarian Zone during his six-hundred day siege. According to General Sung, his forces were "quickly expunged", meaning that all the recorded information of that event was removed, as opposed to "expelled", which is being physically removed from a place.
- At the arrival station where Zuko and Iroh got their passports stamped is a large sign above that says  The words also appear in front of the word 'university' ( ), at the entrance of the university seen in "City of Walls and Secrets". which translates as "Welcome to Ba Sing Se." Ba Sing Se ( ) means 'perpetually strong city', not impenetrable city as General Sung stated.
- Ba Sing Se's walls show up on all world maps.
- Earth King Yi Ming once noted that it would take him two full days just to walk from one end of Ba Sing Se to the other.
- Ba Sing Se's division of social level by the inner and outer rings could be a reference to the inner and outer courts, inner being more exclusive, in the Forbidden City, or the same inner and outer rings used to divide many ancient Chinese cities.
- The physical appearance of the wall is based on the Great Wall of China. It also serves a similar purpose, as the Great Wall of China was used to keep the Mongols out, and the Outer Wall is used to keep intruders out.
- Besides Kyoshi Island, Ba Sing Se is the only place in the Earth Kingdom that was not conquered by Chin the Conqueror.
- Toph appeared to have disliked going to Ba Sing Se, as it was just "a bunch of walls and rules".
- Ba Sing Se was run similarly to that of North Korea in the sense that an iron shield is placed around Ba Sing Se controlling all of its citizens with absolute control. It also resembles North Korea in the sense that visitors are accompanied by one or two tour guides.
- After the Hundred Year War, three citizens of Ba Sing Se formed a pro-bending team named the Ba Sing Se Badgermoles.
- Ba Sing Se being seen as a utopia and the outside world being ignored is comparable to the setting in the dystopia novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
- Historically, Ba Sing Se has been defined by its isolation from the rest of the world, even though it is the capital of the Earth Kingdom, the largest of the four nations. This characteristic dates back to ancient times, when the city was still an underground settlement. In later eras, the isolation was furthered by the construction of the massive Outer Wall as well as Long Feng's conspiracy, in which information about the invasion of the Earth Kingdom was suppressed within the city limits. The concept of the city's seclusion was inspired by the history of the Forbidden City, a former center of Chinese governance.