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Chen Lu Yu: 'China's Oprah'

By James MacDonald
CNN
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(CNN) -- They may not jump up on the couch or scream with excitement but the live audience on China's revolutionary talk show is slowing getting into the Oprah Winfrey frame of mind.

"They don't know how to respond to my show but then they will start to enjoy themselves. Sometimes they will just sit and listen, sometimes they will sigh. They will shed a tear or two, they will laugh, they will clap their hands," says TV host Chen Lu Yu.

"Basically if I can get a genuine reaction from them it is good," she says.

Known as "China's Oprah," the 37-year-old TV personality decided 10 years ago on a trip to the United States to model her show, "A Date With Luyu," on the American TV star Winfrey.

Chen watches Oprah's show almost daily and while she finds the comparisons to her flattering, says it "much easier to be yourself than try to be someone else."

Having grown up when TV was in its infancy -- when viewing choices were limited to news and old movies -- it is surprising that Chen would consider "fun, glamorous and fulfilling".

Yet, they were the qualities of TV which appealed to her and she to it. Chen landed her own show while still a senior college student in Beijing.

In more than a decade of being a public face in a rapidly changing China, she has gone from interviewing celebrities to her current show where people from all walks of life get to share their story with a live audience of 300 and a viewing audience in the multi millions.

Some of her most memorable interviews include people who are HIV positive and lesbian lovers holding hands and telling their love stories.

After 10 years in the TV industry Chen Lu Yu says China's viewers know her well enough to realize that just because she asks the tough questions doesn't mean they have to answer them. Being Chinese and catering to a traditionally conservative audience, she also knows how people will react to certain topics and how not to offend her viewers.

"They know once they are here they are safe with me," says Lu Yu.

"I am very curious. I am going to ask all the tough questions but if they don't want to answer those questions it is fine. You know, it is fine with me.

"And also I think doing, working in this TV industry for over a decade, my viewers they have known me so well so we have already built this trust and this trust is really the foundation on which I can build my program," she adds.

Understanding the sensitivities of her guests as well as her audience is all part of being successful in China. Despite the country's tight controls on the media, Chen says she's never had a problem with regulators.

"I've never had anyone during the past 13 years come up to me and say he, Lu Yu, you are not supposed to say that, you are not supposed to do that because we are having this political pressure here," says Lu Yu.

"I've never had that kind of experience but I do have a certain amount of responsibility on my shoulder because I know whatever I say whatever I talk in front of the camera tens of millions of people are going to have a reaction to that.

"So I believe in making my viewers feeling good about themselves and about life because life is hard as it is and I just want my viewers to feel good."

Journalist Bina Brown contributed to this report.


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HIV-positive sufferers and lesbian lovers are mong Chen Lu Yu's interview subjects.

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