The Legend of Zhen Huan: Eps 1-3

Chinese DramasDrama Reviews

The Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan rivals Bu Bu Jing Xin in quality.  This drama takes place in the Qing Dynasty, during Emperor Yong Zheng’s reign, so of course people will obviously compare it to BBJX at first.  The thing with BBJX is that although it had high quality costumes and sets, there was still a very glossy, polished feel to it.  While it looked more realistic in contrast to other period c-dramas that didn’t pay so much attention to detail, it still felt pretty surreal.

Zhen Huan has a totally different atmosphere.  IMO it’s way more realistic than BBJX.  Its costumes are exquisite, the setting is beautiful, but it doesn’t feel like the producer is even TRYING to go, “Look at how beautiful this is!  You know you want to time travel back to the Qing Dynasty!”  It just IS beautiful in its own way.  The cinematography is quietly beautiful and simplistic.  In BBJX you felt like you were in a fairy tale, but in Zhen Huan you feel like you’re getting a secret glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the Forbidden City.

Zhen Huan, our main heroine, is an innocent and cheerful girl who doesn’t even want to be selected as one of the emperor’s concubines.  Buuut of course she passes the concubine auditions when the emperor notices her beauty (and her resemblance to the former empress) and her calm composure.  Zhen Huan lights up the screen with her carefree attitude, which makes me feel kinda sad because I wonder how she’ll change once she enters the palace.  Zhen Huan is already friends with Shen Mei Zhuang who also passes the auditions.


Already we have a conflict between the current Empress (played by Ada Choi) and the lofty Hua Fei.  Hua Fei is basically next in command because she’s related to the great general Nian Geng Yao and she has the emperor tied around her finger.  She flaunts around her power since the Empress has little control over her.

I love that the Legend of Zhen Huan pays close attention to ranks, titles, customs, etc. of the time period.  The Emperor awards each new concubine a certain title, each of which denotes their rank.


Zhen Huan is granted a sorta-good rank of “Laughing” or smiling (forgot what it was).  Each concubine is shown to their new residence in the Forbidden City.  Zhen Huan brings along her two servants with her and settles into her new palace.  It’s the former residence of the former empress (who’s deceased).  HINT HINT.  HINT HINT HINT .

We see the wonder and excitement in exploring the Forbidden City through Zhen Huan’s eyes.  I love this episode because it really feels like you’re right there with her, experiencing this for the first time.


Zhen Huan is a benevolent and kind mistress, both to her long time childhood servants and to her new eunuch’s/maids.  As she settles into her new home, we get to see how the Inner Palace works as the Empress and Hua Fei send out presents to the new concubines and as all the other concubines settle in.


Shen Mei Zhang is my favorite character so far.  She’s of higher status than Zhen Huan, but is still quite humble and kind.  Mei Zhang is basically the epitome of “a lady” of that time–graceful and refined and composed.  And to top it off, she’s nice.  It was kinda funny to see the obvious difference in the way Mei Zhang and Zhen Huan handled their new situations.  When Zhen Huan had her maids give the eunuchs a gift of money, it wasn’t as subtle as the way Mei Zhang had her maid do the same thing.


Ling Rong is the last of our threesome of new concubines (that are main characters).  She’s of the lowest status amongst the three of them.  Because of her low status, at first she wasn’t even given a second glance by the Emperor.  However because of a fresh flower in her hair, a butterfly lingered by her head, thus catching the emperor’s attention.  Obviously she passed the audition.

Ling Rong is quite the sad character; although she became a concubine and thus brought honor to her family, she’s not very happy in the Forbidden City.  Although she’s a concubine, her title is one of the lowest ones.  Because of her low status and family background, another wealthy concubine looks down on her and always makes snide remarks.

Again we see more of the ways of the palace, as Ling Rong hardly receives any gifts from anyone.  All because of her status.


Zhen Huan, Ling Rong, and Mei Zhang group together and become good friends.  Since Ling Rong does not have very fortunate circumstances, Mei Zhang and Zhen Huan take her under their wing and help her out.  It’s the beginning of a friendship that will hopefully last through all of the trials and drama in the emperor’s harem.


All the costumes are gorgeous.  Every single concubine has such beautiful hairstyles and gowns.  AUGHHHHH!!!  They must’ve had a huge budget to make everything look so exquisite.   Anyway, several scenes like this one shown above demonstrate the customs and social expectations of the time.  Zhen Huan & Mei Zhang prove to be very smooth talkers and quick thinkers.


By the 3rd episode we already discover the true cruelty of the Inner Palace, and how important it is to survive.  A high status will not necessarily spare you from punishment, as shown when an arrogant high-ranking new concubine is punished severely for acting out of place.  Also one of the servants is found dead after she offended the Hua Fei.  Yeah..don’t mess with her…

Our threesome is frightened by the harsh conditions of the palace after receiving such a wake up call.  It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to their circumstances in order to stay on the good side of the higher ups.


I anticipate that this will be the best court drama I’ve seen.  The quality is great on all levels–the script, acting, costumes, etc. I read on spcnet that its only weakness might be its soundtrack.  Also the endings to the episodes are rather abrupt but that’s kinda common in c-dramas.

I think this is the kind of drama that will receive a loyal following of fans, but it won’t experience a huge overwhelming success like BBJX.  Probably because this drama feels so raw and realistic.  I really think that those who aren’t watching it are missing out though.  This is not the drama for everyone…but if you want to see a more realistic side of the Forbidden City, then this just might be for you.  Obviously this is a period c-drama which means that there is much angst and suffering to come in the future.

Don’t be expecting lots of romance and cutesy shippy scenes.  Sure they’re concubines and there’s the emperor, but this is really a drama about the complexity of the Inner Palace and the struggles between the concubines as they vie for power.  The emperor is not handsome and young, but it doesn’t really matter.  I mean, do you really think that all the emperors and princes back in the day were hot?


I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
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  • Yay, you’re covering this drama! I really loved this, I think it’s the BEST Inner Palace drama I have ever seen. It features realistic, rational schemes, beautiful costumes and ample of character development!

    Btw, the palace Zhen Huan is living in was not the former residence of the former empress, it’s actually the old residence of a concubine who was sent to the Cold Palace. It’s also very isolated and far from the emperor’s palace, thus why Hua Fei sent her there.

    Her close friends’ name are Shen Mei Zhuang and An Ling Rong.

    • Yup, thanks to your great recommendation! I’m really excited to see the rest of it *-*

      Ok thanks for clarifying I guess I mixed up the palace thing. T_T It sounded like they thought that palace was bad luck or something.

      Do you by any chance know who the actresses are for Mei Zhuang & Ling Rong?

      • Yes, because the previous concubine there lost her child was casted away into the Cold Palace because she was so depressed (and other reasons)….definitely bad omen.

        Mei Zhuang – 斓曦 (Lan Xi)
        Ling Rong – 陶昕然 (Tao Xinran)

    • Could you tell me what website to watch The Legend of Concubine Zhen. I checked on Viki and it’s only subbed in English up to Ep. 25. Thnx.

    • Haha, hi, just finished this series! I love your episode reviews!
      Just wondering, what is the name of the actress acting as Concubine Ning Pin? Also, do you have any drama similar to this to recommend?

      • Hey Crystal, thanks that means a lot to me! 😀 The name of the actress for Ning Pin is Re Yi Zha (热依扎). Hmm I haven’t found a c-drama that is as good as LZH actually. It is hard to find a good c-drama about palace intrigue. >_<

  • Hmm..
    I never watched a C-drama (though I tried watching snippets of some T-dramas), maybe because of the language, mostly because of the stories and execution.
    I’ve seen the web buzzing over BBJX, and while it was still not enough for me to watch it, I did actually watch a (looong trailer).
    I quite loved the atmosphere and costumes (I LOVE period dramas in general) but wasn’t convinced to follow.
    Now, with your recap/review of The Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan, I may be tempted. I prefer my period dramas to be more grounded in reality.
    BBJX’s heroine looks very cute and bubbly, but too naive and child-like for my taste.

    The big problem is that it’s a long drama, and I certainly can’t jump in this wagon for so long a ride.
    Which makes me appreciate even more the time you spent on this recap.
    Beau travail ~

    • Yeah this is a good quality drama but the length is a bit daunting. Also that means that the pace won’t be as fast as you might like it to be. I’ll probably post reviews of it every few episodes since it’s too long to recap~

  • If this drama was so great, what is the need to compare BBJX to this. Seriously, I think a drama can carry itself on its own without be compared to other dramas. I would have maybe attempt to watch this if only you didn’t start comparing.

  • Just seeing this pictures, i might watch it. Lol. I love period dramas and this interests me. The good thing in BBJK is a terkjerker drama, and yes like a fairy tale. Anyway, ive seen some Qing Dynasty dramas (beside BBJX) and their costumes are different, but theyre in a same dynasty. But their costumes are superb! Thanks for the recap.

  • I truly love this drama!!! I totally agree with the beautiful costumes, great storyline and of course the casts; Sun Li did a superb job!!! Watching it in HD truly enhance the beautiful costumes.

  • When watching this drama, do not concern too much about any historical accuracy, because it is not. This drama is completely fictitious, which background was randomly portrayed during the reign of the 4th Qing Emperor – YongZheng. The actual empresses and concubine of Emperor YongZheng were: (First) Empress Xiaojingxian, (Second) Empress Xiaoshengxian (mother of HongLi / Qian Long – 5th Qing Emperor), Imperial Noble Consort Dunsu (d. 1725), sister of Nian Gengyao; bore three sons and a daughter, none of whom survived; Imperial Noble Consort Chunque (1689–1784) mother of Hongzhou; Consort Qi (d. 1737); Consort Qian (1714–1767) mother of HongZhou; Consort Ning; Imperial Concubine Mao; Noble Lady Guo (d. 1786); Noble Lady Li (d. 1760); Noble Lady An (d. 1750); Noble Lady Hai (d. 1761); Noble Lady Zhang (d. 1735).

    The Second Empress XiaoJingXian was portrayed as Zhen Huan with twin children had only 1 son recorded. The sister of Nian GengYao, Imperial Consort Dunsu, was portrayed as Hua Fei as a cruel and vicious person. In addition, many of the actual historical names had been changed in this drama and no historical records found how the palace concubines actually lived and related to each other during YongZheng’s reign, but possibly this was a true depiction of real life of these concubines if they were treated such humiliation and disgraced, when at that period, women were merely either pleasurable, trading or political objects with no rights whatsoever unlike men. Overall it is a good movie to watch and very entertaining.

    • Thanks I didn’t know the real history of Yong Zheng’s concubines. >_< Sounds like they based it very loosely on history in terms of the characters. I am also curious about how the real concubines actually lived, too bad there are no records of it.

  • Agree that this drama feels more realistic among the other Qing Dynasty dramas but the most problem is it is not based on the history. Hong Li (later Emperor Qian Long) should be born before Yong Zheng ascended the throne. Hong Li was born on 1711 while Yong Zheng reign began on 1722 so if Zhen Huan entered Forbidden City on Yong Zheng reign, she couldn’t be Hong Li’s mother (later Empress Dowager). I know this is drama only, not historical one but it will be wiser for the novelist or writer to make Zhen Huan Empress Dowager in other ways rather than made her Hong Li’s mother.

    • They made Hong Li Zhen Huan’s adopted son when she returned to the palace again. ZHZ is a book and the main storyline and characters follow the book, but certain aspects such as the time period and emperor was changed because Qing dramas are all the rage.

  • Oh, Heisui, I’m watching Gilded Chopsticks. Nancy Wu played the role of Imperial Consort Dunsu. Haha I came accross your recaps and saw the name Imperial Consort Dunsu in it when I’m trying to find some info abou her. 🙂

  • Hi, this is probably a bit late since the show ended so long ago/ the post was made so long ago, but I’m really glad I found someone else who is as equally interested in Zhen Huan Zhuan (ZZH) as I am! 🙂

    I think, amongst all the C-dramas and HK-dramas I have ever watched on palace intrigues, ZZH is easily the most outstanding one. Aside from the high production value (look at how intricate even their headresses and nailguards are!), I liked how they paid attention to historical details AND used them to highlight the nuances in the story. One good example is the title granted and the “honorary name” (“feng hao”) given to the new concubines.

    As you correctly noted, Mei Zhuang, Zhen Huan and Ling Rong are given ranks in the descending order, based on the importance of their father’s role as an official (an objective test). Still, the Emperor has some discretionary power to indicate his (subjective) favour/ attention. Even though Zhen Huan’s initial rank was lower, she was the only one amongst the 3 of them who was given a feng hao (*SPOILERS ALERT* in contrast, the mostly unfavoured Ling Rong was only given a “feng hao” in the last 10 episodes or so when she was promoted to a “fei” (3rd rank out of 9 ranks of concubines) and if I remember correctly, the reason the Emperor even thought of granting it to her is because Zhen Huan suggested it.

    Lastly, I would like to point out a minor misunderstanding in the post. The concubine who bullied Ling Rong and was punished by Hua Fei isn’t actually a high-ranking concubine. As she comes from a “bao yi” background (people of Han ethnicity who served the Manchus), technically her family’s status isn’t that high (as reflected by the fact that she has the same rank as Zhen Huan). In fact, at the beginning of the Qing dynasty, they would have been seen as mere servants of the ruling Manchu class. The only reason she acted so arrogantly was because she naively thought that just because her family is rich (which is assumed based on what she told Ling Rong about the price of her robes. I also assume that the purported family wealth was accumulated due to close connections with the Manchu ruling class), she would get a free pass on her conduct. Which clearly showed a lack of understanding of how the Inner Palace operates. -_-”

      • Qi Fei was the mother of the third prince, Hong Shi

        Hong Li was a child of a lowly palace maid who got raped by YInzhen when he was drunk. Before he became Emperor.

        The maid died in childbirth and he had the lowest status. Because of that, nobody cared about him aside of Zhen Huan.

  • Some good points, but very bad writing that doesn’t befit such a great drama. Not a decent comparison with BBJX, too.

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