What exactly is Tien, and why does he have three eyes? The Dragon Ball shows never really explain this. Here’s what you need to know about his race.
What race exactly is the three-eyed Tien in the Dragon Ball universe? The Z-Warrior is a supporting character in all three canon shows in the anime franchise, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball Super. Tien was introduced as an antagonist who brutally beat Yamcha and battled Goku in a martial arts tournament in the original series.
Tien evolved into a close ally who has assisted Goku and his friends in many of their battles. Along with the rest of the Z-Warriors, Tien helped to hold off Nappa during the Saiyan Saga, and participated in the battle against the androids and Cell. Tien had a minor role in the Buu Saga and returned to the action to fight Frieza’s army in Dragon Ball Super. For the Tournament of Power, Tien was one of nine warriors recruited by Goku for the Universe 7 team. He was only the second fighter eliminated from Goku’s team, but he was able to contribute to their victory by taking out a dangerous adversary.
As someone whose power hasn’t been anywhere close to Goku’s since Dragon Ball, Tien has never had a massive presence in the franchise, but he has made appearances throughout all three shows as a peripheral character. That being said, the Dragon Ball shows still haven’t offered an explanation for what Tien is and why he has three eyes. However, franchise creator Akira Toriyama and official Dragon Ball guidebooks called Daizenshuu have provided some details about Tien and where he comes from. Apparently, Tien is a member of a race called the Three-Eyed People that are based on Earth. That’s why Tien is typically classified as an Earthling, but not as a human.
It was said in the guidebooks that a race of aliens known as the Three-Eyed People settled on Earth long ago and formed a tribe. One of their distant descendants is Tien, and he’s the only canon member of their species in the Dragon Ball world. It’s unclear if he’s the last of his kind, or if there just hasn’t been a reason to show any more of them. As for the third eye, Toriyama has explained that it gives the Three-Eyed People the power of “true seeing”. According to Toriyama, Tien lost access to this power when he was trained by the villain, Master Shen, as the eye is apparently meant to be used for good only. Though he lost that power, he can still grow extra arms, which seems to be unique to his race.
Tien, who only recently started to become relevant again in the Dragon Ball universe, is for the most part inspired by Chinese culture. This applies to his style of martial arts, name, and even his third eye. The third eye represents wisdom in the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism and is located in the middle of the forehead. Interestingly, Tien isn’t the only Z-Warrior with deep ties to Chinese culture. His sidekick and loyal companion, Chiaotzu, is based on vampires from Chinese folklore.