New Science Fiction Series Gets Mixed Reception From Home Audience

Netflix’s adaptation of the international success The Three-Body Problem has received a mixed reception from Chinese viewers.

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A still image from the Netflix series "3 Body Problem."

On March 21st, 2024 Netflix dropped all eight episodes of its new series 3 Body Problem. The new show is an adaptation of the internationally acclaimed sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. The Three-Body Problem is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, so a warm reception to Netflix’s adaptation could mean the entire trilogy making it to the silver screen.

Overall, Netflix’s new series has received favorable reviews, with some critics praising the showrunners for how they navigated Liu’s dense source material. However, the show is receiving some backlash from Chinese viewers, some of whom find elements of the show problematic.

Controversial Opener Sparks Outcry

The first episode starts with one of the main characters, Ye Wenjie, watching in horror as her father, a physics professor, is beaten to death by his own students and denounced by his colleagues and wife. The violent display is called a “struggle session,” a public event where alleged class enemies were publicly humiliated and tortured, sometimes to death. Such struggle sessions were popular during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which swept through China in 1966 and lasted until 1967.

Some Chinese viewers criticized Netflix for including the scene, saying that the scene was only included to put China in a bad light. In a review on the Chinese website Douban, one netizen wrote: 

In the eyes of foreigners, China is still that repressive, backward and crazy stereotype. All disasters stem from this. The Chinese are not worthy of saving the world and can only wait for the West to save it.

The Three-Body Problem cover by Cixin Liu, a pyramid surrounded by levitating rocks.

Getting Around Government Censorship

While the struggle scene is violent and graphic, it is not an invention of the show. Liu even initially planned to open his novel with the struggle session scene as the Netflix series does, but his publisher advised him to move it further into the book to avoid criticism from Chinese government censors. The Cultural Revolution is an important part of Chinese history that influences the characters, the plot, and the social context of the novel, and by finding loopholes around censorship laws, Liu includes significant information that would otherwise be redacted.

It is important to note that not all Chinese viewers are against the struggle session. Users of the Chinese social media site Weibo praised Netflix for its faithfulness to the source material, including the show’s depictions of the Cultural Revolution. Some users have taken issue with the show’s depictions of Chinese history and the globalization of the original book’s Eastern-centric plot, but the show has as many defenders as it does detractors. For its defenders, 3 Body Problem is a Western adaptation that still does its best to pay homage to its Chinese source.

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