Zanilia Zhao was born and raised in Langfang, Hebei province, where she attended the Langfang School of Electronic Information Engineering, a national key secondary vocational school in China.
Zhao entered the entertainment industry in May 2006, while she won the champion of Search Star Game (《搜星比赛》), later, she signed with Huayi Brothers.
In December 2006, Zhao had a minor role as The Empress in the historical television series Nanyue King, which starred Tang Guoqiang, Wang Gang and Ning Jing.
Zhao's first film role was a servant girl in an appearance (uncredited) in the film Mudan Pavilion (2007).
In 2009, Zhao played the character Ling'er in The Firmament of The Pleiades, which adapted from Japanese novelist Jirō Asada's novel of the same title. This hit TV series was broadcast in NHK, and earned critical acclaim.
In 2010, Zhao acted in The Dream of Red Mansions, a TV series adaptation based on the novel of the same name by Cao Xueqin.
In 2011, Zhao signed with Hairun Movies and Television Production Co., LTD. At the same year, She co-starred as Princess Qing'er in New My Fair Princess, which was based on Chiung Yao's novel.
In 2013, Zhao starred in several television series, such as Palace II, Legend of Lu Zhen and Mermaid Legend. She played the lead role of Lu Zhen in Legend of Lu Zhen, which earned her a Favorite New Artist Award at the 4th China TV Audience Festival, a Most Popular TV Actress Award at the LeTV Awards and a Favorite Actress Award in Chinese Mainland at the Tudou Awards.