"Nothing is as soft as water. Yet, who can withstand the raging flood?"
- ―Lao Ma, "The Debt I"
Lao Ma, Ruler of the Lao Dynasty was a recurring character on Xena: Warrior Princess. She was the wife of the Emperor of the Lao Dynasty, Lao Tzu. He was very ill and so he was kept in a coma by her with the use of pressure points. Lao Ma secretly ruled the Dynasty, but allowed her incapacitated husband to take all the credit.
Despite having only two appearances on the show, she was one of the most pivotal characters and influences on Xena's life. She met with Borias and Xena to make an alliance with them. When she defended herself against an attacking Xena, she left, stating that an alliance was almost impossible. When she later saved Xena from being savaged by Ming Tzu's dogs, she helped her realise her inner potential, dubbing her "The Warrior Princess" for the first time. She taught Xena compassion and revitalized her in a way of life she thought was long dead inside herself. This "new" Xena was short lived, when she and Borias reunited and fought. Events followed and they eventually killed Ming Tzu. A few years later, Lao Ma was sentenced to death by her son, Ming T'ien, so that he could inherit the throne of Chin.
Not much is known about Lao Ma’s childhood. She somehow became the concubine of Ming Tzu, the ruler of the Ming Dynasty, and he fathered her child, Ming T’ien, who stayed with him after he sold Lao Ma to Lao Tzu, ruler of the Lao Dynasty. He was told his mother’s identity, but was also told to keep it a secret.
She and Lao married; a tyrannical leader. When his health deteriorated, she placed him in a coma using pressure points and ruled in his name. She allowed him to take the credit for her good deeds and therefore made him the most loved of his people. She made sure that he was seen in the royal gardens once each month, so that people knew that he was still alive.
Meeting Xena and Borias
Lao Ma is called to meet with Xena and Borias about an alliance, after they had previously had an unsuccessful meeting with Ming Tzu. When she arrives, she apologizes for her husband’s absence, but explains that he is unwell. She says that she has heard of Borias and Xena before: she had heard that Borias was a man of honour and that Xena was a dangerous woman.
After they become acquainted, Xena sat back and watched Lao Ma and Borias become very close during dinner. Although she seemed jealous of their immediate bond, she later explains to Gabrielle that it wasn’t jealousy: it was the idea of Lao Ma turning Borias away from his wild persona – and she liked him wild. Once her anger got the better of her, she confronted Lao Ma with a dagger when the two were alone. The crippled Xena (due to Caesar’s crucifixion) threw the daggers at Lao Ma, but she blocked them with her hair brush, flinging them back her way. Xena dodged them and ran at Lao Ma, but she defended herself well and knocked Xena to the floor. She then used telekinesis to propel Xena out of the tent, by which time the two were greeted by Borias. She explains to him that an alliance didn’t seem appropriate after Xena’s attack. She leaves and Borias banishes Xena from his camp after she had now foiled both his attempts at making an alliance with the two houses of Chin.
Rescuing and Training Xena
"...You will be my Warrior Princess."
- ―Lao Ma to Xena, “The Debt II”After Xena’s banishment, she kidnaps Ming T’ien, son of Ming Tzu, in hopes of offering a trade in exchange for gold. Borias sets her up the exchange, but betrays her and Xena is taken away by Ming Tzu, so that he can kill her for sport. He takes her to the woods with his hunting dogs, where he let her loose and allowed the dogs to chase after her. However, Lao Ma bumps into them and sees Xena minutes before she is hunted, prompting her to save Xena from the dogs and take her back to the Kingdom of Lao. She tells Xena that she has the ability to see into other people’s souls and she can tell that Xena will one day be a remarkable woman. As the two take refuge in her home, Ming’s dogs follow Xena’s trail to Lao Ma’s chambers, where Xena is hiding. Lao Ma gets rid of them, as Xena hides in her bath. Once he leaves, she washes Xena and clothes her, being one of the first people in a long time to show her compassion. She attempted to teach Xena how to perform telekinesis: after a failed attempt by Xena at destroying a bottle with telekinesis, Lao Ma tells her to stop trying to attack the bottle with her mind, will and hatred. Xena is confused by this and so she shows her how.
Lao Ma allows Xena to waitress for her at a dinner she is having with Ming Tzu. Xena, cleverly disguised in Chinese clothing and with her hair up, served Ming Tzu, Ming T’ien and Lao Ma whilst they ate. She managed to standby and listen to him insult her. After the dinner was over and they had left, Lao Ma explained that to a confused Xena that she was able to control her emotions and “silence her will”. She takes Xena to her husband, Lao Tzu, where she shows Xena the pressure points she uses to keep him in a coma. The reason being is due to him being a vicious tyrant and so she keeps him in a coma and rules in his place, but allows him to take the credit, so that people will think of him as a kind person. Xena couldn’t understand how someone could feel that way about someone else, but Lao Ma explains that as long as good is done, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. Lao Ma also uses her healing powers to fix Xena’s crippled and near-useless legs, another act of selfless compassion. Xena begins to understand Lao Ma’s messages and so she finally learns how to successfully use telekinesis. The two of them levitate around the room, until Borias walks in and Xena sees him. She is immediately filled with hate and revenge, due to his recent double-crossing. She falls to the ground and attacks him. Lao Ma tells Xena that she sent for him and that she needs to stop willing, desiring and hating. Years later, Xena tells Gabrielle that when Lao Ma said those words, it was her chance to change, but she chose not to. She continues to attack Borias until Lao Ma stops them and explains that she is going to try something different. She explains to the two of them that Ming Tzu will be visiting the next day, in order to discuss a three-way alliance between he, herself and Borias, and she plans to inform him of Xena’s presence. She then tells Xena that she will help her rule the kingdom of Lao as her “warrior princess”. She informs Xena that once she learns how to get along with Borias, she will focus on her feelings towards Ming Tzu tomorrow. Lao Ma leaves them alone to sort things out, not caring if they kill each other in the process, as it was in their best interest to get along.
They made-up and the next day, Xena asked for Ming Tzu’s forgiveness, but he refuses, claiming that what she did is worth more than an apology, as he continues to complain that she is his property. This then prompts him to leave, as he realises that the treaty will only go ahead if he forgives Xena. To stop him from leaving, Xena offers herself up as the prize in a gambling game. She explains that the winner will gain possession of her and a body part from each of the losers, just to make the game more interesting. Xena wins the game and Borias offers Xena his heart. Xena kills a fleeing Ming Tzu and attempts to kill Ming T’ien, but Lao Ma protects him, claiming that it is not the way forward. Xena proposes that if she were to kill Ming T’ien, then the entire Ming line will be wiped out, meaning that the Lao Dynasty will be able to rule Chin supreme. Lao Ma stops Xena and Borias with her telekinesis and she allows Ming T’ien to escape. Xena and Borias leave Chin and never see Lao Ma again.
As soon as Ming T'ien became old enough, he took his deceased father's throne and ruled as the emperor of Ming. He sentenced Lao Ma to death and executed her personally, as he knew that she would not use her powers to hurt her own son. After her death, Ming T'ien became feared throughout Chin as a monstrous ruler. Before her death it is presumed that she sent a message to Xena that asked her to kill the Green Dragon and end his reign. She succeeded, but the events of her mission caused a rift between Xena and Gabrielle (although it was later resolved).
Lao Ma had a big impact on Xena's life. She managed to sway her from her evil ways temporarily and taught her an inner peace Xena had never known along with her additional powers. Although Xena and Borias later left the land of Chin, Xena returned years later to avenge her death and kill Ming T'ien, against Gabrielle's wishes.
After her death, Lao Ma was mentioned countless times by Xena. She even tried to conjure up her powers to defeat the Persian Army in "One Against an Army". In "Adventures in the Sin Trade", Alti says that Borias had told her about Lao Ma's powers. Later on in "Purity", Kao H'sin says that every day that passes in Chin without bloodshed, it passes because of Lao Ma.
Xena always reffered to Lao Ma as "her mentor" and has often shown a great amount of respect for her: she even used the title that Lao Ma called her - "The Warrior Princess". Lao Ma's book that chronicles her findings and directions of calling her power is thought of as an artifact, being stored in the Zao Monastery. Her children fought over this book - Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu wanted the book for evil, whilst Kao H'sin wanted the love that the book held and to use its knowledge for good.
Powers and Abilities
Martial Arts: Lao Ma has shown to have skillful use of martial arts. Although, not done offensively, she was able to quickly react when Xena threw knives a her from behind by catching them with her brush and flinging them back in one fluid movement. Lao Ma has also shown skill in throwing projectiles when she used a hairpin as a dart.
Pressure Points: Like Xena, Lao Ma has knowledge of pressure points on the human body. She used these to keep her husband in a coma.
Spiritual Powers: Lao Ma's spiritual powers are mysterious with no true known origin or limitation. It is unclear what Lao Ma can or can not do with them. While the powers were also used uniquely by Xena, Kao H'sin, and Pao Ssu, these are the feats Lao Ma was shown to accomplish with them:
- Animal control: She can either sway or control the actions of animals. When Xena was being chased by hunting dogs, Lao Ma was able to calm them and send them away with only a stare.
- Energy: She can project blasts of concussive energy from her hands.
- Enhanced Senses: She is able to sense the presence of those around her. This was shown when she was able to catch Xena's knives without looking.
- Healing: To mend pain and injury. Lao Ma was able to use this to heal Xena's broken legs.
- Levitation: Lao Ma can lift herself and others into the air as if light as feathers.
- See into souls: This is an ability described as "seeing into the souls of others" which Lao Ma called a blessing and a curse. She was able to use this to see the kind of woman that Xena is and who she is capable of becoming. This seems to come with some empathic abilities, as well as knowledge of the past and future. It is possible that this ability is similar or the same as Alti's signature power to pull experiences from a person's lifetime and use it against them.
- Telekinesis: One of her most used powers, Lao Ma is able to move things with her thoughts. She has used this to fling people, move objects, and shatter vases.
- Wind: Lao Ma seems to have some level of control over the wind as seen when she levitated Xena and herself. It was also said by Kao H'sin that Lao Ma could speak to her through the whispering wind.
- Wisdom: Through her enlightenment, Lao Ma was given wisdom from the heavens. This came in the form of lessons and proverbs which she wrote in her Book of Wisdom. This wisdom is the knowledge she used to attain her spiritual powers.
"Lao Ma":(to Xena)"Fill yourself with desire and see only illusion, empty yourself of desire and understand the great mystery of things."
- -"The Debt"
"Lao Ma":"To conquer others is to have power, to conquer yourself is to know The Way."
- -"The Debt"
"Lao Ma": "The entire world is driven by a will, blind and ruthless, in order to transcend the limitations of that world, you need to stop willing, stop desiring, stop hating."
- -"The Debt II"
"Lao Ma": "Heaven endures and the Earth lasts a long time because they do not live for themselves. Therefore, she who would live a long time, should live for others, serve others."
- -"The Debt II"
Behind the Scenes
- Lao Ma was a vegetarian.
- Although not explicitly stated, Lao Ma in the Xenaverse is the true founder of Daoism, a major religious and philosophical system that had enormous influence on the cultures of east Asia for over 2,000 years. A number of her lines are in fact paraphrased from the Tao Te Ching, the core Daoist text.
- "The Bitter Suite"
- "One Against an Army"
- "Forget Me Not"
- "Paradise Found"
- "The Way"
- "Adventures in the Sin Trade"
- "Purity" (Mentioned, archive footage)
- "Back in the Bottle" (Mentioned, archive footage)
- "When Fates Collide"
- "A Friend in Need Part I"