"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" – John 3:16
After a couple of weeks of re-watching, looking up information, and reading other people’s blogs about ‘Nirnava in fire (Lang Ya Bang)‘, I have finally gotten over it to start a new TV series. ‘Empresses in the palace (Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan)‘, also known as ‘The Legend of Zhen Huan’, is a Chinese historical drama based on the internet novel of the same name by Liu Lianzi. The story centres on the schemes between Emperor YongZheng’s concubines in the imperial palace during the Qing Dynasty. The TV series consists of 76 episodes of 40 minutes each. It was first aired in China on 17 November 2011. The main cast includes Sun Li as Zhen Huan and Chen Jianbin as the Emperor YongZheng. The TV series received very good reception, being praised as one of the best historical dramas broadcast in mainland Chinese in recent years. It won the China TV Golden Eagle Award and the main actress Sun Li was nominated for the International Emmy Award.
This is a high quality production drama. You can tell from the beautiful settings and sophisticated costumes that the production team put a lot of efforts in making it. Even though the story is fictional, its background is based on a real historical period with real historical figures. I learned a lot about Chinese culture including poetry and music during the Qing dynasty through this drama.
The drama has a good plot with lots of twists and turns. However I started to lose my patience after the first twenty episodes and skip-watched a few more before jumping to the last one. The main reason is because the main character Zhen Huan isn’t attractive enough to keep me interested. Even though I know it is unavoidable, I don’t like the fact that she became cruel towards the end. There are no male characters who are good enough for me to crush on. Also I can’t stand seeing the emperor keep picking up on young girls.
Overall I did enjoy it. I think I may watch the remaining episodes at some point when I have time.
Some thoughts about the episodes I watched
As in other Chinese dramas about the political fighting between the emperor’s concubines, the story typically starts with a pure and innocent beautiful and talented young girl who has no desire whatsoever to be involved with the emperor but ends up being chosen for the emperor’s harem. Shen Baoping and Li Dan really moved me in their acting as Zhen Huan’s parents even though they only appeared for 10 minutes in the first episode. I felt so sorry for them that they had to see their daughter leaving for the palace, which was famous for being complicated and dangerous. The only things they cared about were Zhen Huan’s safety and wellbeing. Perhaps becoming a parent makes me particular empathetic.
After entering the palace, the 17-year-old Zhen Huan was very shocked witnessing the cruelty of the palace. Another new consort like her was punished for violating the palace’s rules and was beaten to disability. A dead body of a servant girl was discovered in a well. Zhen Huan became depressed and together with the help of her friend/admirer, a royal physician, Wen Shichu, she pretended to be ill to avoid the emperor.
The first four episodes were important for introducing the characters and setting the scene. Even though they were going with a good pace, I started to get impatient about when Zhen Huan would have a chance to meet the emperor.
I thought they would finally meet in episode 5 when the emperor went for a walk in the apricot blossom garden where Zhen Huan was praying for blessings. In her prayers, she quoted a line from a poem. Hearing from afar, the emperor was very impressed with her knowledge and wanted to meet her, but Zhen Huan quickly hid away. A servant called Yu Yinger working in the garden that night heard the prayers and claimed to be the one who quoted the poem. With some beauty and singing talent, she was then made a concubine. I felt rather disappointed about this brief encounter and a big question ‘when’ keeps jumping up in my head.
But I didn’t have to feel disappointed for too long. Zhen Huan finally met the emperor properly in episode 6. It was rather a romantic love story. In a nice spring day, when Zhen Huan was playing flute on a swing in a garden, the emperor passed by and heard her flute. He claimed to be the emperor’s 17th brother and talked with Zhen Huan for a short while. Soon they met again in the same place and Zhen Huan started to fall for him. It turned out to be a nice surprise that he was the emperor. She quickly become his favourite with her purity and innocence. Showering her with special treatments, he showed her his passionate love.
I must admit the emperor isn’t my kind of main guy as he isn’t very good looking (like Hu Ge for example 😁). But I know it is more realistic to pick Chen Jianbin for this role instead of a handsome young man. As expected from an experienced actor, he did a very good job in portraying the emperor.
What strikes me is how bad women were treated in the past, particularly in the palace. The emperor had hundreds of concubines as young as 14 years old. When they were ‘used’ for the first night, they were stripped naked, wrapped in a blanket and brought to the emperor. It was rather disturbing to see people get treated with no dignity like that. The lucky ones were then visited once or twice a month. Some never saw the emperor in their lives. With only one husband to share, certainly fighting was unavoidable. They were all incredible lonely.