Lao Ma

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Lao Ma
Headshot of a Chinese noblewoman dressed in red robes and a black fur hat.
Jacqueline Kim as Lao Ma
First appearance The Debt, Part I
Last appearance The Debt, Part II
Created by Robert Tapert
Portrayed by Jacqueline Kim
Species Human
Occupation Ruler of Kingdom of Lao
Affiliation Xena, Borias, Ming Tzu

Lao Ma is a fictional character in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess. She is portrayed by Korean-American actress Jacqueline Kim. Lao Ma is first introduced in the series in a two-episode story arc comprising The Debt Part I and Part II. The first episode has Xena, relating to Gabrielle events which happened in her life ten years ago. The character of Lao Ma is portrayed as the good mother archetype.[1]


Despite appearing in only two episodes, Lao Ma is a very significant figure in Xena's history. She was one of a sequence of characters who turned Xena away from evil, including M'Lila, Hercules and finally Gabrielle. She accomplished this in two ways: firstly, by showing compassion and love, which Xena had long since abandoned; and secondly, by trying to teach Xena how to harness her inner power.

However, although Lao Ma was an expert judge of character, even she underestimated Xena's evil. At the time, Xena rebelled against her purity and tried to kill her son who grew up to become the "green dragon", and it was only much later that her teachings had the desired effect. Many years later - after turning to good - Xena remembers Lao Ma with reverence and honour.

Character history[edit]

Early history[edit]

The province of Qin had been divided for a long time between two kingdoms, Ming and Lao.

Lao Ma was originally a courtesan in the House of Ming.[2] During her time there she became pregnant with a child, Ming T'ien, but the child was taken from her and raised by a servant. Although she was not permitted any involvement in raising Ming T'ien, she tried to demonstrate her love in various ways.[2] However, he grew up cruel and brutal.

Some time later Lao Ma was sold as a wife to Lao Tzu, the vicious, tyrannical ruler of the House of Lao. (Note that in reality, Lao Tzu was a revered Chinese philosopher, but in the TV series Lao Ma left her wisdom in his name so that he can be remembered as a benevolent ruler. Also, while Chinese tradition considers his real-life namesake to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, the ancient book which Lao Ma's sayings allude to, Western scholarship does not recognise him as the book's author; in fact, its authorship is unknown.) With him, she bore twin daughters, K'ao Hsin and Pao Ssu. To protect her daughters from their brother Ming T'ien, she sent them into hiding.[3]

Lao Tzu fell terminally ill, and on his death was due to be replaced by his "imbecile cousin".[2] Fearing this and taking advantage of the opportunity, Lao Ma kept him alive artificially using pressure points and ruled in his place. Wherever she went, she pretended that he was very ill and that she was his emissary. She made alliances and friends, and ruled with compassion, crediting all of her success publicly to Lao Tzu and healing his reputation amongst the people.

When we first see Lao Ma, she rules the Kingdom of Lao. She is peaceful and tranquil, but a woman of great spiritual power.

Lao Ma meets Xena[edit]

Lao Ma is known as being soft and hard at the same time, "Soft as water, hard as the raging flood.".[2]

Lao Ma first met with Xena and Borias when they were trying to forge an alliance between the houses of Ming and Lao. Lao Ma presented herself to Xena and Borias with great humility, saying: "Please, forgive my husband for sending his insignificant wife to handle such difficult affairs of state."[2]

While the three were in talks to forge the alliance, Xena took an immediate dislike to Lao Ma, and made no attempt to hide her disdain. Later when Lao Ma was in her yurt, out on the Mongolian plain, Xena entered and tried to kill Lao Ma. Lao Ma easily defeated the still-crippled Xena. As Xena was lying on the ground after her defeat by Lao Ma, she tried to impart some of her wisdom to Xena.[2]

Xena announced to Borias that she wanted to betray the houses of Ming and Lao, so that she and Borias could have the Kingdom of Qin to rule over themselves. Borias told Xena it was a bad plan, but she rebelled and broke away from Borias. Xena kidnapped Ming T'ien and ransomed him back to his father, Ming Tzu.[2] Ming Tzu agreed to her ransom, but Borias betrayed her to Ming Tzu, who hunted Xena for sport while she was wounded. While Xena was fleeing for her life from Ming Tzu's dogs, she was rescued by Lao Ma. She took Xena to her home and hid her there in her bath. Ming Tzu's dogs tracked Xena to the house of Lao, but Lao Ma did not divulge Xena's location and even prevented the desperately concealed Xena from drowning by sharing a breath underwater.[2] When Xena asked why she saved her even after she had tried to kill her, Lao Ma replied that she has the gift to see into the souls of others. And Xena's soul has the potential for greatness, and that she wants to nurture that potential.[2]

On the right is the same Chinese woman dressed in a silk robe, holds the hand of the woman opposite her who is dressed in a blue silk robe.
Lao Ma with Xena

Lao Ma took Xena and bathed her, clothed her, and lovingly combed her hair. During this time Xena was confused as to the reason Lao Ma was treating her this way. She told Xena that she writes down all of her wisdom in Lao Tzu's book so that he will be remembered as a great and wise ruler. Xena was surprised that Lao Ma was willing to give her husband credit for her work, but Lao Ma, being the wise woman she is tells Xena that, "This wisdom comes from Heaven, what difference does it makes who gets credit for it, Lao Ma or Lao Tzu".[2] As she trained Xena to harness great power by conquering herself, she told her that she wants her to rule Qin by her side as "her Warrior Princess". To help Xena conquer herself Lao Ma arranged for Xena to be the servant at a dinner she had organized for Ming Tzu and her son Ming T'ien, she told Xena this would teach her humility and would aid her in attaining power over herself. After Xena suppressed her rage and desire to kill Ming Tzu, Lao Ma used her mystical powers and healed Xena's crippled legs. Xena was filled with joy when she realized she had been cured.[2] Lao Ma then began teaching Xena about The Way, and imparted some of her wisdom to her new pupil. Lao Ma arranged a meeting between Borias and Xena, but Xena was unable to contain her rage against Borias due to his betrayal. Later she reconciled with Borias and they killed Ming Tzu.

With Ming Tzu dead Xena and Borias attempted to kill Ming T'ien but this angered Lao Ma and she used her powers to throw them both against a wall, thus preventing them from committing their act of violence. After the death of his father at the hands of Xena, Ming T'ien's psyche was damaged and he grew to power and ruled over the Kingdom of Ming as a brutal dictator, oppressing the people of the Kingdom of Ming.[4]

Lao Ma's death and Xena's awakening[edit]

A young Chinese man dressed in silks wearing a silk covered hat.
Ming T'ien, The Green Dragon

With Ming T'ien in power, Lao Ma was arrested and soon after, she sent a messenger to Xena,[4] telling her "The Green Dragon has ecome too large, and must be made small."[2] Lao Ma was put on trial and sentenced to death. Her execution was carried out by Ming T'ien himself. He knew of his mother's powers and her love for him, and knew she would not use her powers to save herself if it meant harming her son.[4] Xena receives the message from Lao Ma and heads back to Qin to deal with the Green Dragon. Gabrielle pleads with Xena not to kill Ming T'ien, but Xena tells her she must as this is her debt to Lao Ma for saving Xena's soul.[2] She tells Gabrielle the story of the events of her life when she first met Lao Ma, and tries to explain why she must kill Ming T'ien. Gabrielle tells Xena she cannot accompany her in her quest to kill another human being, so Xena sets off for Qin alone.[2] Xena arrives in Qin and attempts to carry out the execution of Ming T'ien, but when she enters his bed chambers, Gabrielle reveals herself. She tells Xena she could not allow her to commit this crime, Xena cannot believe that she has been betrayed by her friend.[2] Xena is arrested, put on trial and finally sentenced.

As she sits in the dungeon, an old man tells Xena what happened to Lao Ma, Xena is saddened to hear that her former mentor is dead.[4] The man tells her about the belief that Lao Ma had great powers and thought that she would use them to escape, but now people believe she must have been a fake. Xena tells him that Lao Ma's powers were real. Gabrielle comes to Xena and explains why she had to prevent Xena from committing murder. Gabrielle is disgusted with herself at having betrayed her best friend and getting her sentenced to death and allowing Ming T'ien to continue his despotic reign over the Kingdom of Ming, and fears that Xena hates her for it. Xena states that she was angry at Gabrielle, but could never hate her, and the two reconcile.[4] As Xena is taken from the dungeon and restrained so she can be executed, she remembers Lao Ma and the love they had for each other, she remembers the wisdom and teachings that Lao Ma tried to pass onto Xena. As she remembers, Xena finally realises what Lao Ma had been trying to teach her and Xena uses this wisdom to tap into the same mystical powers that Lao Ma possessed.[4] Using her powers she kills the executioner and begins destroying the palace with fierce energy blasts. She calls to Gabrielle to escape as the palace comes crashing down around them. Gabrielle leaves but then comes back to find Xena telling Ming T'ien he has been made small again.[4] Gabrielle tells Xena she did the right thing by not killing Ming T'ien. As they leave the palace together Xena retrieves Lao Ma's book of wisdom as a memento of her great mentor. As they leave, Ming T'ien sits still and it is revealed that Xena actually killed him.[4]

Lao Ma's legacy[edit]

The Hawk and the Dove[edit]

A young Chinese woman dressed in red top with oriental decoration. Her short hair is tied up in two bunches.
Pao Ssu greet Xena

Some time after the death of Ming T'ien, Lao Ma's twin daughters rise to power and begin their rule over Qin. One sister is fair and just, like her mother, the other is stern and harsh like her brother. A monk from the Zo monastery brings a message to Xena, telling her "the hawk and the dove must be made one with the wisdom."[3] Xena recognises this as a message from her old mentor, Lao Ma, and that "the wisdom" refers to Lao Ma's book. Xena, along with Gabrielle and Joxer, travel to Qin to retrieve the book from the monastery where she had hidden it years before. When the three arrive in Qin they find the monastery under siege, and begin to defend it from attack. As they defend the monastery a young woman joins them and they succeed in defeating the troops. The young woman then reveals herself as Pao Ssu, the daughter of Lao Ma.[3] Xena greets her with the same love she had for Lao Ma. Xena enters the monastery to retrieve the book, only to find it missing. She and Pao Ssu begin a mission to find the book. They find it in the possession of Pao Ssu's twin sister K'ao Hsin.[3] It becomes evident that Pao Ssu is behind the attack on the monastery, and that she wishes to possess the book to unlock its powers so she can destroy her enemies. Xena challenges her, they fight and she escapes with the book, but Pao Ssu doesn't realize the book is a fake planted by Xena.[3] Pao Ssu meets Gabrielle and Joxer again and captures them. She ties them to carts laden with explosives. K'ao Hsin, not wanting anybody harmed, hands over the book to her sister, but she lights the explosives and flees with the book. Xena saves Gabrielle and Joxer before the explosives ignite.[3]

A headshot of a young Chinese woman with long black hair.
Kao Hsin

Pao Ssu studies her mother's book and understands the source of her power. While meditating, Xena and K'ao Hsin have a vision of Lao Ma when she gave away her daughters, they see that Lao Ma gave them away to stop them being hurt by their brother the Green Dragon.[3] K'ao Hsin begins to fear they cannot defeat Pao Ssu, as her rage is so great. Xena teaches her the wisdom that Lao Ma taught her and K'ao Hsin realizes that "the hawk and the dove" in her mother's message is not her and Pao Ssu, but her and Xena. She and Xena face off against Pao Ssu, both using their mystical powers. Xena's power comes from a place of great love, but Pao Ssu uses intense hatred to access the power.[3] Xena succeeds in weakening Pao Ssu by telling her why her mother gave her away and she and K'ao Hsin are able to defeat her. The army attempt to save their leader and fire a rocket at the tent, it explodes into flames and results in killing Pao Ssu. With the army now powerless peace is restored. K'ao Hsin thanks Xena, telling her she is the strongest woman she has ever met, Xena replies by saying that K'ao Hsin never knew her mother. Xena tells her she is a worthy successor to her mother's legacy, K'ao Hsin tells Xena she is now her sister.[3]

The roles of Pao Ssu and K'ao Hsin are both played by Marie Matiko.

The return of Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu[edit]

With Pao Ssu now dead, Xena has a vision of bloodshed and tells Gabrielle and Joxer that they must return to Qin. Pao Ssu is not dead, she has merged her spirit with that of the Green Dragon.[5] She gives the formula for the Black powder to a warlord named Khan. Xena and the others arrive back in Qin and see a group of refugees coming from Lao Ma's temple, with them is K'ao Hsin. She tells them that Khan has attacked the temple and the village and the people have lost their homes. Xena tells her to get them to the tunnels under Lao Ma's palace. Xena comes up with a plan but Gabrielle is captured by Khan's men.[5] Xena senses Gabrielle's fear and uses her powers to save her. Xena fears she will not be able to stop Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu, but K'ao Hsin tells her, "If Pao Ssu and Ming T'ien could return here through the sheer power of their hate. What makes you think they cannot be defeated through the power of your love?".[5] Khan begins his attack on Xena and the people of Qin. Xena uses her powers to stop the rockets the army are firing. Xena sees the mark of the Green Dragon. Realizing that all of Khan's men have his emblem, she focuses on this. She also thinks about all the people who will be killed if she fails. This causes Xena to access her power and turn Khan's men into stone and destroy Pao Ssu and Ming T'ien in the process. Once defeated, K'ao Hsin tells Xena that Lao Ma's spirit lives on in her. She tells K'ao Hsin that her power came from a place of love. She never though that love could end a war. However, she was wrong.[5]

Quotes from Lao Ma[edit]

Here are some quotes from Lao Ma and some of the relevant passages from the Tao Te Ching.

Fill yourself with desire and see only illusion. Empty yourself of desire and understand the great mystery of things. --Lao Ma

Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. --Tao Te Ching

To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself is to know the way. --Lao Ma

Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. --Tao Te Ching

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. --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. --Lao Ma

Nothing is as soft at water. Yet who can withstand the raging flood? --Lao Ma


  1. ^ "Lao Ma as the Classic Good Mother Archetype". Retrieved 2006-07-18. [unreliable source?]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "The Debt". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1997-11-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Purity". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1999-11-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Debt, Part 2". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1997-11-10.
  5. ^ a b c d "Back in the Bottle". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1999-11-15.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]