Netflix’s 3 Body Problem sparks online debate in China despite not being shown there

 BEIJING – A Netflix adaptation of a Chinese science-fiction classic found a large audience in China on March 21, the first day of its release, despite the streaming service not being available there, and prompted immediate debate on social media.

The Netflix series 3 Body Problem is an adaptation of segments in the book trilogy, Remembrance Of Earth’s Past (2006 to 2010), by Chinese author Liu Cixin, and made for the screen by the creators of Games Of Thrones (2011 to 2019).

Liu’s novels have sold millions of copies since they were first published in Chinese.

The English translation for the first novel, The Three-Body Problem, by an Asian writer was the first to win science fiction’s Hugo Award for best novel. Its fans included  former United States President Barack Obama.

The Netflix version, like the English translation of the novel, starts with violent scenes from China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and takes audiences across time and the globe – and further.

Partly set in a virtual-reality game, it sees actions taken by an astrophysics student in China carry consequences on the entire universe.

In present-day Britain, a group of physicists – nicknamed The Oxford Five – seeks to understand why scientific experiments around the world are failing. The group gets a helping hand from an unconventional detective, Da Shi (Benedict Wong), an operative of a secret intelligence agency.

The eight-episode series’ ensemble cast includes actors Eiza Gonzalez, Jovan Adepo, Jess Hong and Jonathan Pryce, while Brad Pitt, Rosamund Pike and Rian Johnson are among the show’s executive producers.

The new series was trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo on March 22 with 21 million views so far, and was first on the platform’s “top hot” trend rankings despite Netflix being officially inaccessible in China.

Chinese viewers would have had to watch the series from behind a VPN or on a pirate site.

“Jaw-dropping” moments for Chinese viewers included an opening scene where a prominent scientist is beaten to death by paramilitary Red Guards, a depiction of recent history that remains controversial in China.

“The first scene made my jaw drop. Even though I had anticipated this, the scene still startled me,” said one Weibo user.

The video unit of Tencent Holdings released a 30-episode, Chinese-language adaptation of the series in 2023.

Seeking to capitalise on the publicity, Tencent Video released a streamlined version on March 18, and many online commentators said the made-in-China version was better.

The tagline “China version wins” was shown as trending on Weibo on March 22 as one of the most-discussed topics of the day.

Others objected to the way the Netflix adaptation shifts the action from China to the Oxford Five group of British physicists.

“That showed Westerners fundamentally can’t accept the idea of Chinese people inventing cutting-edge technology,” one viewer posted on the ratings and social network site Douban.

Another Douban user said Netflix had short-changed the Chinese elements of the story for “a Hollywood product that values individual heroism”.

Some viewers said critics were missing the point: a work of Chinese fiction was becoming even more widely known around the world. “Is it somehow a bad thing for the Netflix adaptation to become a global sensation?” a third Douban user said. REUTERS

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