The origin of the legendary Ten Rings in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are shrouded in mystery, but one theory suggests they could perhaps come from Kang the Conqueror. With Thanos dead and the Infinity Stones gone in the main MCU timeline, Phase 4 has begun introducing new threats on an even larger scale than the Infinity Saga. This includes Kang, who was introduced in the Loki season 1 finale, and Xu Wenwu, the true leader of The Ten Rings crime organization (whose power and influence are perhaps greater than even Hydra’s). With Phase 4 underway with new films and Disney+ TV shows, Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings could be tied to the greater MCU narrative through a powerful being like Kang. Indeed, Kang the Conqueror could once again appear in the MCU as part of the cast of the confirmed Shang-Chi 2.
Shang-Chi introduces the MCU’s version of the classic titular Marvel superhero, telling a story that’s as small and personal as it is epic and high concept. As the son of the leader of the Ten Rings organization, Shang-Chi has seen his father wield his mysterious rings numerous times, but they finally become his at the end of the films. Wenwu, who lived for over a thousand years, passes the Ten Rings to Shang-Ci (who’d already commandeered five of them during their fight), which later baffle his newfound allies, Wong, Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner. The origin and significance of the Ten Rings will likely be explored in a future MCU storyline.
The MCU introduced Kang the Conqueror at the end of Loki (though he goes unnamed), and seems to be setting him up as the successor to Thanos as the MCU’s greatest threat. Kang is a variant of He Who Remains, a brilliant being who was once the 31st Century human scientist Nathaniel Richards. When He Who Remains died by Lady Loki’s hands, the Multiverse was thrown into chaos, and Kang was unleashed. The MCU’s exploration of the Multiverse will be further featured in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but perhaps the Ten Rings in Shang-Chi are connected to Kang as well. As Marvel has confirmed that Shang-Chi 2 is in the works, the major theories about Kang and the Ten Rings could soon be laid to rest.
In the mainstream Marvel comic universe, the Mandarin’s Ten Rings are alien artifacts of Makluan origin. The Mandarin wore one ring on each finger, and each ring granted him a different potent superpower. How Xu Wenwu – the true holder of the title The Mandarin – acquired the rings in the MCU is unknown, with the legendary tale being lost to time. Shang-Chi’s opening scene suggests that The Mandarin found them in a tomb or crater, referencing their comic origins. The rings, which are worn on Wenwu’s wrists, granted him eternal life, superhuman physicality, and energy constructs, among other abilities.
While the Ten Rings may or may not be connected to the MCU’s Multiverse, Shang-Chi features another link: Ta Lo. The legendary home of Shang-Chi’s mother, Ying Li, appears to be in a pocket dimension within the mainstream MCU timeline, though some characters suggest that it exists within an entirely different reality. Ta Lo includes creatures from Chinese legends, explained as inter-dimensional beings, similar to the MCU’s explanation for Asgardians and the existence of magic. Ta Lo was also home to the Dweller-in-Darkness, a mystical threat that proved able to trick even The Mandarin.
The Mandarin’s Ten Rings were notably the only objects powerful enough to free the Dweller-in-Darkness from its prison, unleashing its Soul Eaters on the people of Ta Lo. This may imply that their point of origin isn’t the mainstream MCU reality. This is further supported by the fact that the Ten Rings, along with extra-dimensional dragon scale weaponry, was what ultimately defeated the Dweller-in-Darkness. According to Wong in Shang-Chi’s mid-credits scene, the Ten Rings’ presence would be felt from Kamar-Taj when Shang-Chi used them, indicating that whatever signal they sent out could be felt on other planes of reality.
The true origins of the Ten Rings remain a mystery, but it’s entirely possible that they were made by Kang the Conqueror. Notably, even the Avengers couldn’t determine the point of origin of the Ten Rings, despite their expertise and vast knowledge of mystic and otherworldly beings and artifacts. One possible origin of the Ten Rings is that they didn’t originate anywhere in the main MCU timeline, and once belonged to Kang the Conqueror. This would explain how the rings’ origin baffles even Wong and Captain Marvel. Moreover, the ring’s powers seem fitting for Kang, a variant of He Who Remains. The Ten Rings enhance their wearer’s physical abilities and can be used to make energy shields and blasts of concussive force, but perhaps their most notable feature is that they bestow their wearer with eternal life.
He Who Remains is far older than he looks in the season finale of Loki, and he might be far more ancient than comprehensible, given his expertise in monitoring timelines. The immortality abilities granted by the Ten Rings, coupled with their incredible offensive and defensive capabilities, would make them a fitting set of tools for both the benevolent Richards and the malicious Kang. Perhaps the rings were accidentally left on Earth following Richards’ victory in the Multiversal War, but He Who Remains left them there for Wenwu to find them and uphold the Sacred Timeline.
The biggest issue with this theory is that having He Who Remains leave one of Kang’s devices on Earth could violate Richardson’s self-imposed rules for the Sacred Timeline. As shown at the end of Shang-Chi, something about their use in Ta Lo activated a signal that may lead Kang to Earth as a result. If He Who Remains needed Xu Wenwu to obtain ten superpowered rings and become The Mandarin, it’d be wiser for him to simply create new devices and leave them for him to find.
Another potential concern is how drastic of a change this is from the Marvel comics source material. While the MCU is no stranger to changing elements from the comics when needed, keeping the Ten Rings’ Makluan origin from the comics keeps their background simple and prevents moviegoing audiences from being required to watch Loki to understand the Ten Rings’ origin with Kang the Conqueror. As Marvel has confirmed that Shang-Chi 2 is indeed in the works, the sequel would be the best way for the MCU to explore the Ten Rings’ origin in detail.
Considering how Shang-Chi 2 is likely to explore more about the hidden world of Ta Lo, the origins of the Ten Rings, and how Wenwu acquired them, it’s possible that Kang the Conqueror will appear in Shang-Chi 2 as well. However, the rings are more likely called an alien species called the Makluans, according to comic lore. For now, details about Shang-Chi 2 are vague, and Marvel hasn’t yet finalized a release date for the sequel, although it is likely to come out sometime in late 2023 or early 2024. Kang has been confirmed as the villain in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will be released on February 17, 2023, around which time Marvel will also be releasing Loki season 2. This means that when Shang-Chi 2 hits theaters, Kang will already be a more established MCU character, and Marvel could use the aftermath of either Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania or Loki 2 to set up Kang’s appearance in Shang-Chi 2.
While it’s uncertain if Kang the Conqueror will be in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ sequel, Marvel has confirmed that Kang will not only be in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania but also Loki season 2. Considering Kang’s comic book origins and how he was set up as the big bad in Loki, the character has a lot of potential to be the one who ties the MCU Phase 4 movies together, similar to the way Thanos connected the different Avengers movies. He is, after all, The One Who Remains. Just as Kang could appear in Shang-Chi 2, Kang could also serve as the villain in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Captain Marvel 2, and the other upcoming movies in Phase 4.