Netflix blockbuster movie “3 Body Trouble” divides opinion and sparks nationalist outrage in China


An opening scene of the Netflix series “The Three Body Problem” depicts a Maoist struggle session during the Cultural Revolution in China.


Netflix's adaptation of the famous Chinese science fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem”. Scenes depicting a violent and turbulent period in the country's recent history have divided opinions in China and sparked nationalist outrage online.

There have been mixed reactions on Chinese social media since the eight-part English-language series premiered on Thursday “3 body problem” It is based on the Hugo Award-winning novel by Liu Cixin, the country's most popular science fiction author.

Netflix is ​​not available in China, but viewers can watch its content using virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass strict geo-restrictions – or by consuming Pirated versions.

Liu's novel, part of a trilogy, is one of China's most successful cultural exports in recent years, with legions of fans around the world including former US President Barack Obama.

Among the country's more patriotic netizens, discussions about adaptation have turned political, with some accusing the big-budget American production of making China look bad.

The show opens with a horrific scene depicting Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, which consumed China in bloodshed and chaos for a decade from 1966. On the campus of Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, a physics professor is brutally beaten to death on stage by his professor. Students, his colleague and his wife denounce him while his daughter, Ye Wenjie (played by Zhen Zeng), watches in horror.

Such “struggle sessions” were frequent during the decade-long period of turmoil, during which “class enemies” were publicly humiliated, beaten and tortured by Mao's rabid Red Guards.

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But some online commenters accused the show's producers of “making an entire tray of dumplings for a little vinaigrette,” a common saying used to describe an ulterior motive — in this case, they said, producing an entire TV series just to paint China in a bad light.

“Netflix, you don’t understand the ‘three-body problem’ or Ye Wenjie at all!” read a comment on the social media platform Weibo. “You only understand political correctness!”

Others defended the series, saying the scene closely follows the images in the book and is a faithful reenactment of history.

“History is much more ridiculous than a TV series, but you pretend not to see it,” reads one comment on Douban, a popular movie, book, and music review site.

Author Liu Fei said: interview He told the New York Times in 2019 that he had originally wanted to open the book with scenes from Mao's Cultural Revolution, but his Chinese publisher was concerned that they would never be able to get past government censorship and buried it in the middle of the narrative.

The English version of the book, translated by Ken Liu, places the scenes at the beginning of the novel, with the author's blessing.

Ye Wenjie's disillusionment with the Cultural Revolution later proves central to the plot of the sci-fi thriller, which moves between past and present.

“3 Body Issue” was adapted for Netflix by “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and American producer Alexander Wu.

Various other aspects of the show, from the cast and visual effects to drastic changes to the story's original setting and characters, have also sparked outrage from Chinese social media users. Many have compared it to a Chinese TV version released last year – a longer and much closer retelling of the book that spanned 30 episodes and was highly rated on Chinese review platforms.

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The Netflix adaptation featured an international cast and set much of the action in present-day London, making the story much less Chinese.

Some Chinese viewers criticized the change, saying it interpreted a plot line that glorifies the West for saving humanity from a disaster sown by China decades ago.

But not everyone was choosing sides.

“Why do some people always need to make the cultural product an enemy?” said one user on Weibo. “Our version can be good, and theirs can be excellent too. Why do we always have to fight for that?

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