This article is about the spirit. For the first Avatar, see Wan.
"I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study."
— Wan Shi Tong introducing himself to Professor Zei and Team Avatar.
Wan Shi Tong is an ancient, wise, and powerful spirit who collects information for his Spirit Library, and thus is the most knowledgeable being among humans and spirits. He never misses an opportunity to learn new facts or boast about his vast intelligence, though he has developed an indifference for studying human technology since leaving the physical world. Although his regular shape is that of a huge black-and-white barn owl, when angered he can assume much more frightening forms.
Giving humanity knowledge
Long before his encounter with Team Avatar, Wan Shi Tong brought his library from the Spirit World to the physical world. Together with his band of knowledge-seeking foxes, he collected knowledge from all over the world, which he displayed in his library in hopes that humanity would use it to better itself.
Although he left his great collection of knowledge available to the mortal world for many years, he eventually became angry at humankind when he observed humans using the library's knowledge solely for the purpose of getting an edge on one another, such as when Zhao once stumbled upon the library and learned about Tui and La's mortal forms, information he used to help the Fire Nation conduct a large scale invasion of the Northern Water Tribe. Consequently, the wronged owl spirit banned humans from his study.
Encountering Team Avatar
Wan Shi Tong met Team Avatar and Professor Zei with hostility upon their arrival at his library. Following his explanation for banning humans from the library, the Knowledge Spirit agreed to admit Team Avatar and the professor upon Sokka's promise to not use the knowledge for violence. In return, he required each person to provide an addition to his collection. While Wan Shi Tong was pleased with Zei's and Katara's donations, he reluctantly accepted those of Aang and Sokka.
Wan Shi Tong later confronted Team Avatar when Sokka accidentally revealed his intent to use the knowledge found in the library for violence. Tired of witnessing his knowledge be misused to hurt others, Wan Shi Tong began to sink the library, pulling it back into the Spirit World and proceeded to attack the foursome as they had already acquired too much information, in his opinion. As the team split up, the spirit continued to chase down Katara and Momo, intending to add the winged lemur to his specimen collection. However, before he could attack, he was knocked out by Sokka with a blow to the head.
In 171 AG, Wan Shi Tong met Jinora when she entered his library searching for information on the location of the spirit portals. When she saw the vast collection of books and remarked that she could remain there forever, reading, the owl spirit flew down in front of the young airbender and warned her that the last human who desired to read forever was still there, pointing to Professor Zei's skeletal remains slumped against a bookshelf. Wan Shi Tong ordered her to leave immediately, reminding her that humans were not allowed. Jinora attempted to convince him to let her remain by offering new knowledge as per the old rule, though he rebuffed her, pointing out that the ban for humans had become absolute, and voiced his disbelief that she could offer him anything he did not already know. Jinora offered to provide him with information about the radio, but Wan Shi Tong claimed he had already known how the device worked as he had been provided with the information by one of his Knowledge Seekers. Although Jinora corrected his claim that a radio was operated by a small man who sat in the small box where he sung and played instruments. Wan Shi Tong stated that he had no interest in human inventions and requested once more that she leave. However, upon learning that the young girl was Aang's granddaughter and had come to the Spirit World with Avatar Korra, he allowed Jinora to look around, but warned her not to break anything before flying away.
While Jinora was reading about Harmonic Convergence, Wan Shi Tong returned with ChiefUnalaq at his side, having informed the chief of Jinora's presence in the library. Explaining his alliance with Unalaq, the spirit said that the waterbender had proven to be a true friend to the spirits, unlike the Avatar.
"Wan Shi Tong" "萬事通" is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese that means "He who knows ten thousand things," a term he even used to describe himself. However, his name is written on screen as "萬知堂", meaning "Hall of immeasurable (lit. ten thousand) knowledge".
"Ten thousand things" is a Taoistic expression for all of creation; by introducing himself as "he who knows ten thousand things", Wan Shi Tong is referring to himself as all-knowing. He also directly refers to himself as "all-knowing" when he tells Sokka to at least put in some effort when intending to lie to "an all-knowing spirit being".
Wan Shi Tong's two forms resemble animals which are used as symbols for knowledge in the real world: the owl (west, such as Europe) and the serpent (east, such as China).
The owl is considered a symbol of wisdom in Asia, and is also a symbol of Athena/Minerva, the Greek/Roman Goddess of Wisdom.
Like an owl, Wan Shi Tong has the ability to turn his head almost completely around.
Wan Shi Tong's image is included in the "Gear & More" section of the old Nick.com website's episode descriptions. Therefore, his first appearance, though unnamed, was on Nick.com over a year before he made his television debut.
Wan Shi Tong also appeared briefly in the animated short "School Time Shipping", as the school librarian, parodying his library in the regular series.
Wan Shi Tong has studied all three types of waterbending: Northern Water Style, Southern Water Style, and Foggy Swamp Style. After he took the library with him to the Spirit World, knowledge of the Southern Water Style was all but extinct in the Avatar World, except for in the case of the Southern master Hama and Katara, whom she had instructed for a brief period of time.
Wan Shi Tong's normal form as a barn owl is reminiscent of his spirit status. Barn owls, because of their pure white faces and black eyes, are often called "ghost", "demon", or "death owls".
Wan Shi Tong's only appearances in the franchise take place in the tenth chapter of the second book of each series.
Wan Shi Tong is the only spirit known to ally with Unalaq without being turned into a dark spirit.