Netflix blockbuster ‘3 Body Problem’ divides opinion and sparks nationalist anger in China

Netflix blockbuster ‘3 Body Problem’ divides opinion and sparks nationalist anger in China - Arts and Culture - News

The Controversial Netflix Adaptation of “The Three-Body Problem”: A Chinese Sci-Fi Novel that Divides Opinions and Sparks Nationalist Anger


The Netflix adaptation of the internationally acclaimed Chinese science fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem” has generated significant buzz and controversy in China, with contact discussions turning political and sparking nationalist anger over scenes depicting a tumultuous period in the country’s modern history. Despite Netflix not being available in China, viewers have resorted to using virtual private networks (VPNs) or consuming pirated versions to watch the eight-part, English-language series.


Liu Cixin’s novel, which is the first in a trilogy and has been translated into over 40 languages, is one of China’s most successful cultural exports. The country’s most celebrated science fiction author, Liu, has legions of fans worldwide including former US President Barack Obama.

Controversy over Depictions of China’s Past

Among the more patriotic internet users, discussions on the adaptation turned political, with some accusing the big-budget American production of making China look bad. The opening scene of the series depicts a violent and chaotic period in Chinese history, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which consumed China in bloodshed for a decade from 1966. The scene on the campus of prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, where a physics professor is brutally beaten to death by his own students and denounced by his colleague and wife, while his daughter Ye Wenjie watches in horror, has sparked heated debates.

Political Correctness or Truthful Reenactment?

Some contact commentators accused the show’s producers of making a whole TV series just to paint China in a bad light, using the popular Chinese saying “making a whole tray of dumplings just for a bit of vinegar sauce.” Others came to the show’s defense, stating that the scene closely follows depictions in the book and is a truthful reenactment of history.

Author Liu’s Intended Portrayal

Liu had originally wanted to open the book with scenes from Mao’s Cultural Revolution, but his Chinese publisher was concerned they would not make it past government censors and buried them in the middle of the narrative. The English version of the book, translated by Ken Liu, puts the scenes at the novel’s beginning with the author’s blessing.

Impact on Ye Wenjie’s Character

Ye Wenjie’s disillusionment with the Cultural Revolution later proves pivotal in the sci-fi thriller’s plot.

Adaptation and Alterations

The English version of “3 Body Problem” was adapted for Netflix by “Game of Thrones” co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with American producer Alexander Woo. Various other aspects of the show also attracted the ire of Chinese social media users, including its casting and visual effects and radical changes to the story’s original setting and characters.

Comparisons with Chinese Television Adaptations

Many compared the Netflix adaptation to a Chinese television adaptation released last year, which was a much lengthier and closer retelling of the book that ran to 30 episodes and received high ratings on Chinese review platforms. The Netflix adaptation featured an international cast and placed much of the action in present-day London, thus making the story a lot less Chinese.

Debates and Perspectives

Not everyone was picking sides in the debate, with one user asking, “Why do some people always need to make an enemy out of a cultural product?”

The controversy surrounding “3 Body Problem” highlights the complexities and sensitivities around depicting China’s history in international media, sparking debates and perspectives from various sides.