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Zhen Huan’s Emmy nomination brings joy to Weibo users

The Chinese are overjoyed with actress Sun Li (孙俪) being nominated in the Best Performance by an Actress category at the 41st International Emmy Awards for her portrayal of the titular role in The Back Palace: Legend of Zhen Huan (后宫甄嬛传), a Chinese imperial palace drama that took China and the neighboring countries by storm in 2012.

Sun Li as Zhen Huan. Photo:

The International Emmys, presented by the US International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, is awarded to the best television programs produced and initially aired outside the U.S. Legend of Zhen Huan, which was first aired in China in November 2011, is said to have been adapted into a six-part mini-series with one-hour episodes by a US production company in early 2013 and is rumored to be broadcast by mainstream TV stations in the US in the future.

Sun Li @turbosun, who has over 7 million followers on China’s biggest microblogging website Weibo, was nominated for the White Magnolia Award at the Shanghai International Television Festival in 2012 for the same show but didn’t win. With this failure still fresh in memory, Sun’s new nomination sent her avid fans clamoring for “revenge” with an international win. “It’s such a shame that the audience were not allowed to vote,” one of them said, “Otherwise the Chinese could overwhelmingly vote for her.” Sun herself adopted a rather low-key attitude to the Emmy nomination. She responded in a Weibo post that simply said, “Wow, what a surprise!”

However, faced with the competition from actresses from the UK, Sweden and Brazil, here is no guarantee that Sun will be the last one smiling. The Chinese have not had the best luck in the International Emmys, as the Weibo users pointed out, among the 11 Chinese actors and actresses nominated in the past Emmys, only He Lin (何琳) won in 2005 for her performance in "Slave Mother".

This nomination list has been reposted thousands of times on Weibo. Photo:

Nevertheless, the Chinese Weibo users and the Chinese media are acting as if the nomination alone is a big win not just for Sun Li, but also for the show, mostly because despite the wild popularity and acclaim it has received in China and in the Chinese-speaking world, it didn’t seem to have won the “favor” of the Chinese authorities. People’s Daily, the daily newspaper that reflects the policies and opinions of the ruling Communist Party of China, has written several articles criticizing the show, the latest of which came just three weeks before Sun Li’s nomination was announced.

In the article, the paper criticized the TV show for spreading a wrong value system, i.e. survival is only attainable by “breaking bad” as Zhen Huan’s transformation from an innocent girl to a cold-hearted scheming vixen suggested. “In other words, you have to be morally worse than your opponent in order to win. Zhen Huan replaced the queen by playing a dirtier game than the later. That is what The Legend of Zhen Huan was trying to advocate.” After the publication of the article, Beijing Satellite TV canceled the reruns of the show.

But the Chinese netizens think otherwise. “Sun Li’s nomination is a big slap on the face for People’s Daily,” said one Weibo post. Another ridiculed, “If People’s Daily runs more of such articles, our Huanhuan (referring to Zhen Huan) is bound to win.”

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