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Will Chinese audiences like American-style Legend Zhen Huan?

Chinese TV drama "Empresses in the Palace", or "the Legend of Zhenhuan" is now available on Netflix. Photo: Agencies

If the number of viewers is a measure of a drama’s popularity, then it is yet to be seen if the American version of the Legend of Zhen Huan - the Empresses in the Palace will replicate the huge success among the Chinese audiences achieved by its original version in 2011.  

While the new version received a low score among the North American audiences with 2.5 stars in the US and just 1 star in Canada (the full score is 5 stars), according to, the Chinese audiences seem to have much more to say, and comments on both the pros and cons of the new version spread across Weibo right after the preview of the Legend of Zhen Huan was posted online.

As the preview of the new version describes the drama as a true historical story, many Weibo users who have watched the complete 76 Chinese episodes complained that it is not totally based on the facts since it is adapted from a novel of the same name written by an online writer.

“It is not the true story! Don’t misguide American people”, one of them said.

Beginning with the female protagonist Zhen Huan being selected to join the emperor’s harem at the age of 17, and ending with Zhen becoming the Empress Dowager, the 76-episode original drama focuses on Zhen’s transition from an innocent girl to a woman who will do everything to survive in the back palace politics where the concubines battle fiercely for the Emperor’s love through unscrupulous means.

The new version, however, having been cut into six 90-munite episodes, is much shorter than the original one with many critical details eliminated, which has led to “incoherence in storytelling”. Some users even felt that there was no resemblance to the original version after watching the re-edited six episodes.

“I thought it should have been a splendid historical story which happened in the Forbidden City, but it turns out to be a love story,” lamented one user.

“The rhythm of the new version is too fast to follow, and the logic is totally misplaced” said another.

While some of the Weibo users complained about the plot of the Legend of Zhen Huan, others focused their criticism on the translation of the lines. While there are many Chinese ancient poetic lines and phrases in the original version, the very spirit of Chinese culture, much of it is missing in the current American version. Some Weibo users said that “after all Americans are not able to fully understand extensive and profound Chinese culture.”

In fact, after the team decided to bring the Legend of Zhen Huan into American market, director Zheng Xiaolong called back Sun Li and re-shot the scenes of the later year life of Zhen Huan, which were not included in the original version.

Besides, in order to meet the preference of the American audiences, Lin Yibin, director of Fast and Furious 5, was invited to re-edit the drama in accordance with American people’s way of thinking.

“It is very possible that the very nature of the lines will be missing after being re-edited, but the priority is to make it easy to understand for American audiences”, Cao Ping, the producer of the Legend of Zhen Huan, said.

Even though the Legend of Zhen Huan’s introduction into the American market has drawn attention and generated a heated discussion, it is not the first time that this legend story will be broadcast abroad. Earlier in 2013, some Asian countries including Korea and Japan bought the drama as both the traditional costumes and scenes in the show are somehow in line with the way foreigners interpret the image of China.

Picture of older Zhen Huan Photo: Weibo

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