Empresses in the Palace

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Empresses in the Palace
Empresses in the Palace, Hong Kong version (後宮·甄嬛傳 香港版).jpg
Also known as 'The Legend of Zhen Huan'
Genre Historical fiction
Based on Hougong Zhen Huan Zhuan by Liu Lianzi
Written by Liu Lianzi
Wang Xiaoping
Directed by Zheng Xiaolong
Starring Sun Li
Chen Jianbin
Ada Choi
Jiang Xin
Leanne Liu
Li Dongxue
Zhang Xiaolong
Tao Xinran
Lan Xi
Country of origin China
Original language(s) Mandarin
No. of episodes 76
Production
Location(s) China
Running time 45 minutes per episode
Production company(s) Beijing TV Art Center
Release
Original network Dragon Television
Original release 17 November 2011 (2011-11-17)
Chronology
Followed by Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace (2017)
Related shows The Legend of Mi Yue (2015)

Empresses in the Palace (simplified Chinese: 后宫·甄嬛传; traditional Chinese: 後宮·甄嬛傳, lit. The Legend of Zhen Huan), is a 2011 Chinese television series based on the Internet novel of the same name by Liu Lianzi. Directed by Zheng Xiaolong, it stars Sun Li in the title role of Zhen Huan. The series was first aired in China on 17 November 2011.

Synopsis[edit]

The series centres on the schemes between Emperor Yongzheng’s concubines in the Imperial Palace during the Qing Dynasty. The innocent 17-year-old Zhen Huan (Huan Huan) is chosen for the Emperor’s harem, and after entering the palace finds herself caught in the fierce infighting between the Empress and the concubines. Realising that the palace is a cruel and harsh place, she has to learn to survive on her own, sometimes by unorthodox methods. With her wits and talents, Huan Huan fights her way through and wins the Emperor’s affection, ultimately becoming the most influential concubine in the imperial palace, and she ascends to unparalleled glory and wealth. However, she also becomes a woman with few real friends at her side, even after she is rid of all her enemies.

Along the way, she experiences a miscarriage due to mistreatment by Consort Hua, who is the second most powerful woman in the harem, second only to the Empress in rank. However, even though Consort Hua's mistreatment of Huan Huan contributed to her miscarriage, the primary reason for it was because of an ointment that she used regularly to heal a wound. The ointment had ingredients that could induce a miscarriage, given to her by another concubine who Huan Huan thought of as a sister, An Lingrong, the same girl she had once saved. Eventually, Consort Hua is imprisoned in the Cold Palace, a place for discarded concubines, for her many misdeeds, and is eventually given a death sentence and told to commit suicide. Although Consort Hua refuses at first, Zhen Huan makes a visit and tells her that the Emperor has never loved her and only favoured her to please her brother, the general Nian Gengyao. She also tells her the reason for her infertility was a special incense granted to her by the Emperor. In the end, Consort Hua commits suicide but refuses to do so in a way that was decreed.

The Empress plots against Huan Huan, arranging things so that she ends up unknowingly wearing the Emperor’s most beloved late Chunyuan Empress's clothes. The Emperor is enraged by this and grounds her to her palace, where she becomes disillusioned with him. At this time, she is pregnant, and only days after she gives birth to a daughter she is transferred over to a nunnery where she becomes a nun. While there she falls in love with the Emperor's brother, Yunli. However, she eventually comes back to the Forbidden Palace when she mistakenly believes that the Emperor's brother is dead. In the palace, she gives birth to twins, fathered by Yunli (Prince Guo), but she convinces all that they are the Emperor's. She also adopts the fourth prince, who was looked down upon, as his mother was a lowly palace maid. Gradually she regains the love of the Emperor. She also erodes the power of the Empress and kills An Lingrong who caused the death of Shen Meizhuang.

Finally, the Empress confesses her crime and admits that she was the one who killed the late Chunyuan Empress and caused several miscarriages. However, the Empress, who has been granted amnesty by the late Empress Dowager, is not killed but discarded. Towards the end, the Emperor suspects that Zhen Huan and Yunli, the seventeenth prince, of having an affair. He orders her to kill him to prove that she has no feelings towards him. Yunli sacrifices himself for her, and although she does not intentionally kill him, he dies. Following this incident, the Emperor makes Zhen Huan the leader of the Imperial Harem, a post that carries supreme authority in the inner palace. However, increasingly the Emperor grows suspicious regarding the paternity of his children with Huan Huan. In order to save her children, she and a concubine named Ye Lanyi plot against the Emperor, and eventually manage to kill him. As the senior most widow, she plays a crucial role in the succession and installs her adopted son, the fourth prince, upon the Dragon Throne. In the end, Huan Huan becomes the sad and lonely Empress Dowager.

Cast[edit]

Main[edit]

A naive and virtuous young girl who transforms into a cold and calculating woman through circumstances. Her affectionate nickname is Huan Huan.
A suspicious and sometimes cold man whose greatest love was his first wife, Empress Chunyuan.
The archenemy of Zhen Huan. She is an extremely ruthless and cold woman who came to power after killing her sister, Empress Chunyuan. Though she pretends to be a virtuous, dutiful and filial empress, she constantly plots to kill all imperial children since she lost her own son.
  • Jiang Xin as Nian Shilan, Imperial Noble Consort Hua (based on Imperial Noble Consort Dunsu)
An extremely haughty woman who holds unparalleled sway over the Harem due to both the favour she receives from the Emperor and the power of her brother Nian Gengyao. Though she is cruel and sadistic, she is sincere to the Emperor.
Birth mother of Yongzheng Emperor. Though she appears as a kind and loving lady, she can be extremely cruel. She is the one who induced Consort Hua's infertility, and protects the Empress only because she belonged to her clan, Ulanara Clan.
  • Li Dongxue as Yunli, the 17th prince
The Emperor's younger brother. He is Huan Huan's greatest love, who is later killed through the Emperor.
  • Zhang Xiaolong as Wen Shichu
An Imperial Doctor. Though his offer of marriage to save her from entering the palace is rejected by Zhen Huan, he remained her close friend. Later, he had an affair with Shen Meizhuang. He castrates himself after the Emperor thinks that he and Huan Huan are secretly lovers.
  • Tao Xinran as An Lingrong (based on Noble Lady An)
Considered a "younger sister" to Zhen Huan, she entered the palace at the same time. Obtaining favour with Huan Huan's help, her inferiority complex makes her alienate Zhen Huan and harm her by helping the Empress. She is responsible for Zhen Huan's first miscarriage, her father's plague, and Shen Meizhuang's death. She is later killed by Zhen Huan.
  • Lan Xi as Shen Meizhuang
Zhen Huan's best friend, who entered the palace together with her. Though initially favored, she loses the Emperor's trust due to Consort Hua's plan. Later her loneliness causes her to have an affair with Wen Shichu. She dies while giving birth to their child due to An Lingrong's schemes.

Supporting[edit]

Consorts[edit]

  • Li Yijuan as Consort Duan, the archenemy of Consort Hua and a close ally of Zhen Huan. She, at last, becomes the Dowager Imperial Noble Consort.
  • Yang Ziyan as Consort Jing, an ally of Huan Huan and the adoptive mother of her first child.
  • Zhang Yameng as Consort Qi, the birth mother of the third prince. She is forced to commit suicide by the Empress, to ensure a better future for her child.
  • Tang Yixin as Concubine Qi, a minion of the Empress. She accuses Zhen Huan of having an affair with Wen Shichu, but failed to prove it and is later beaten to death.
  • Li Jiaxuan as Concubine Li, a minion of Consort Hua. She is banished to the Cold Palace, where she becomes insane.
  • Chen Sisi as Cao Qinmo, the closest aide of Consort Hua. She caused her downfall to protect her daughter. She is then killed by the Empress Dowager for her treacherous nature.
  • Re Yizha as Ye Lanyi, a fiercely independent woman who reluctantly enters the harem as she secretly loves the seventeenth prince. Though the Emperor favours her despite her rudeness, she hates him and finally kills him with the help of Zhen Huan.
  • Guo Xuan as Concubine Zhen
  • Wan Meixi as Concubine Xin, a simple lady who survives the Harem despite taking no part in palace politics.
  • Zhao Qin as Lady Fucha. She has a miscarriage after An Lingrong causes the Empress' cat to jump at her. She later goes insane when Zhen Huan scares her with stories of torture.
  • Mao Xiaotong as Lady Ying
  • Yin Er as Xia Dongchun. She was crippled by Consort Hua on her first day in the Palace through torture.
  • He Yanan as Kang Changzai
  • Tan Songyun as Lady Chun
  • Cui Manli as Yu Yinger

Royal household[edit]

  • Yang Qi as Meng Jingxian, Yunli’s consort
  • Liu Yan as Shu Taifei, Yunli’s biological birth mother
  • Wang Wenjie as Hongli (Emperor Qianlong), the Emperor’s fourth son. Born of a lowly maid, he is adopted by Zhen Huan.
  • Wu Lipeng as Hongshi, the Emperor's third son. He pursued his father's concubine and was disowned by the Emperor.
  • Kang Fuzhen as Yunsi, the Emperor’s younger brother

Servants[edit]

  • Li Tianzhu as Su Peisheng, the Emperor’s Head Eunuch. He is a close allyof Zhen Huan and is the lover of Cui Jinxi.
  • Lan Yingying as Huanbi, Huan Huan's half-sister and her servant. She later marries the 17th prince and commits suicide at his funeral.
  • Zhan Qingyi as Liuzhu, Zhen Huan’s servant. She is killed by the palace guards as they stop her from going out to seek medical assistance for the grounded Zhen Huan.
  • Sun Qian as Cui Jinxi, Huan Huan’s loyal servant who is also her close friend. She remains with her until the end.
  • Yang Kaichun as Jianqiu, the Empress’s servant who is extremely loyal towards her.
  • Liu Yitong as Songzhi, Consort Hua’s servant.

Others[edit]

  • Shen Baoping as Zhen Yuandao, Zhen Huan’s biological father. He suffered disgrace due to the schemes of the father of Qi Pin.
  • Li Dan as Zhen Huan's mother.
  • Xu Lu as Zhen Yurao, Zhen Huan’s younger sister. She later marries Yunsi.
  • Sun Ning as Nian Gengyao, Consort Hua’s older brother, also chancellor of the country. Though he helped the Emperor to ascend the throne his arrogance caused both his and his sister's downfall.

Soundtrack[edit]

Empresses in the Palace - Original Television Soundtrack (后宫·甄嬛传电视剧原声音乐大碟)
No. Title Music Length
1. "Mishap of a Pretty Face (红颜劫)" Yao Beina  
2. "Bodhisattva (菩萨蛮)" (Male version sung by Liu Huan) Yao Beina  
3. "Flying Phoenix (凤凰于飞)" Liu Huan  
4. "Picking Lotus (采莲)" Yao Beina  
5. "Golden Silk Blouse (金缕衣)" Yao Beina  
6. "Jing Hong Dance (惊鸿舞)" Yao Beina  

Reception[edit]

The series had sweeping popularity in mainland China, that Sina termed it as "a whole town tunes in to watch when it airs on TV".[1] It has been praised for being one of the best historical dramas broadcast in mainland China in recent years.[2] Critics attribute the success of the series to its delicately designed plot, fancy costumes reflecting a certain period of old China, and an addictive storyline.[3] Director Zheng also said that the series is not a "simple ancient or idol love story", but a righteous historic values that reflects the cruelty of feudal society.[3]

In Japan, after just one week, the series amassed more than 39 million Japanese viewers. A Fuji TV employee revealed that after the first episode aired, the number of hits for their website multiplied five-fold, and that they also received many phone calls inquiring about the drama. Since the series airs at 5 p.m. on weekday evenings, it is particularly popular among housewives and students. Taka Tsukazaki, the CEO of Asia Republic Entertainment, perhaps said it best when he called the series an “an immortal masterpiece that will still give rise to discussion even after five or ten years.”[4]

Through the series, the audience can learn much about ancient Chinese poetry, fashions, court etiquette, and herbal medicine. The show also features intensely sophisticated dialogue that has sparked trending quotes among its followers on the internet.[2][5] One particular popular phrase is "Jian ren jiu shi jiao qing," spoken by the Consort Hua, which literally means "bitches are hypocrites".[3]

Cultural influence[edit]

The Style of Zhen Huan[edit]

After the series become popular, audiences began to imitate the way people spoke and behaved during the Qing Dynasty. Many individuals discuss problems or issues by using the language of this drama in forums. The drama helped promote interest in classic Chinese philosophy.

Controversial values[edit]

The drama elicits a controversial debate that divided two sides. People's Daily pointed out that in the series, it appears good characters cannot win against evil characters unless they stoop to their level of cunning. Furthermore, when evaluating the production of historical themes, the most significant critique standard should focus on the values standard instead of authenticity standard. Social media is able to shape people’s mind in visible and invisible ways,and incorrect values would lead the audience to the survival of the incorrect ideas into real life. Conversely, the article of Seeking Truth holds an opposite viewpoint; and they assert this drama reveals the decadent essence of ancient Chinese feudal society and traditional and outdated lifestyle obstructs the development of society. It also praises and appreciates the brave women constantly pursue their happiness and fight against with the forces of evil.

Accolades[edit]

List of Accolades
Award / Festival Category Recipient(s) Result
China TV Golden Eagle Award Outstanding Television Series Won
International Emmy Award[6] Best Actress Sun Li Nominated
Shanghai Television Festival[7] Best Director Zheng Xiaolong Won
Best Actress Sun Li Nominated
China TV Drama Awards Won
Best Supporting Actress[8] Jiang Xin Won
Best New Actor Li Dongxue Won
Most Popular Actress (Hong Kong / Taiwan) Ada Choi Won
Macau International Television Festival[9] Best Drama Won
Best Director Zheng Xiaolong Won
Best Actress Sun Li Won
Huading Awards[10] Best TV Actor Chen Jianbin Won
Chunyan Awards Best Director Zheng Xiaolong Won

International broadcast[edit]

The drama was first aired in China in 2011 on Dragon TV.

The drama was split into three parts for its Japanese broadcast and was aired under the title Women Vying for Power in the Palace <宮廷の諍い女>. The name change was due to the hanzi and kanji characters for “Zhen huan” (甄嬛), which are not frequently used in the Japanese language and are therefore unrecognizable to most Japanese viewers. However, some netizens complained that the new title was “too bare” and lacked the implicit appeal of the original.[4]

In April 2015, the series was added to US region of Netflix. It was edited down to six episodes, each with a ninety-minute duration. The original audio was kept intact with the addition of closed captions in English.[11]

In Thailand, the series was aired in 2016 and broadcast on Channel 7.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Legend of Zhen Huan Sweeps Chinese Mainland". Beijing Review. 
  2. ^ a b "Top 10 Chinese entertainment events in 2012". People's Daily. 21 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "Desperate concubines". Global Times. 
  4. ^ a b ""Legend of Zhen Huan" Becomes Smash Hit in Japan". jaynestars.com. 16 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "Zhenhuan-speak". China Story. 27 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "International Emmy Awards Nominees". iemmys.tv. Archived from the original on 25 December 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "Winners of 18th STVF Magnolia Award". stvf.com. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Actress Jiang Xin Covers Fashion Magazine". Women of China. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "葛优闲来无事亲自领奖 孙俪大S齐封后". ent.cntv. 
  10. ^ "2012华鼎奖名人满意度调查获奖名单". Sina. 
  11. ^ "Empresses in the Palace coming to Netflix". Netflix Life. 
  12. ^ ""ภ.จีน ชุด "เจินหวน จอมนางคู่แผ่นดิน" (THE LEGEND OF ZHEN HUAN)"". Channel 7 (in Thai). Retrieved 26 May 2016.