Why Netflix's '3 Body Problem' Is Controversial in China

Bloomberg Television
1 Apr 202404:53


TLDRThe Netflix adaptation of the Chinese science fiction bestseller 'Three-Body Problem' by Leo Sheehan is stirring controversy and conversation. Starting with the Cultural Revolution, a topic often avoided in China, the series has sparked debate about its portrayal of Chinese history and its Westernized approach. Bloomberg's Karishma Vaswani highlights the series as a significant cultural achievement, transcending geopolitical issues between China and the U.S. While not available in China, audiences globally are accessing it through VPNs, engaging in discussions beyond typical international tensions. The show is seen as a bridge, allowing different audiences to view the same content through diverse cultural lenses, and is part of a broader trend in Chinese science fiction reaching global screens.


  • 📖 The Netflix adaptation of the Chinese science fiction bestseller 'Three-Body Problem' by Leo Sheehan starts during China's Cultural Revolution, a choice sparking controversy.
  • 🌐 Bloomberg opinion columnist Karishma Vaswani suggests the series offers a complex portrayal of China, challenging the narrative preferred by authorities.
  • 🖥 The adaptation's beginning in the Cultural Revolution is viewed as controversial, yet deemed necessary to provoke thought and discussion.
  • 🎬 The series has garnered a global fanbase, indicating its success beyond China and highlighting its appeal to a wide range of viewers.
  • 📚 The story's adaptation into a Netflix series has raised discussions about the Westernization of its content, contrasting with the original material's cultural roots.
  • 👨‍💻 Karishma Vaswani highlights the series as an achievement in portraying an alternative view of China, one not aligned with the image promoted by Xi Jinping.
  • 🚀 The sci-fi mystery engages viewers in a global conversation, transcending geopolitical tensions like those involving Taiwan or the South China Sea.
  • 🎧 Despite not being officially available in China, Chinese fans access the series through VPNs, showing its widespread impact and the desire for uncensored content.
  • 💻 The discussion generated by the series bridges cultural and political divides, offering a shared topic for global audiences.
  • 📈 The Chinese government's regulations on sci-fi content aim to highlight technological advancement, but 'Three-Body Problem' precedes such guidelines, offering a unique narrative approach.

Q & A

  • What is the title of the Chinese science fiction bestseller discussed in the script?

    -The title of the Chinese science fiction bestseller discussed is 'Three-body Problems'.

  • Who is the author of 'Three-body Problems'?

    -The author of 'Three-body Problems' is mistakenly referred to as Leo Sheehan in the script, but the actual author is Liu Cixin.

  • During which historical period does the Netflix adaptation of 'Three-body Problems' begin?

    -The Netflix adaptation of 'Three-body Problems' begins during China's Cultural Revolution.

  • Why does Karishma Vaswani believe the series 'Three-body Problems' is controversial?

    -Karishma Vaswani believes the series is controversial because it starts with the Cultural Revolution, a period often avoided in discussions by authorities, and portrays a complex version of China.

  • What kind of impact does the Netflix series based on 'Three-body Problems' aim to achieve according to Karishma Vaswani?

    -According to Karishma Vaswani, the series aims to portray an alternative world and stimulate global conversations beyond geopolitical issues, thus bringing audiences worldwide together.

  • How has the Chinese audience reacted to the Netflix adaptation of 'Three-body Problems'?

    -Chinese fans have criticized the Netflix adaptation for making an Americanized Westernized version of the much-loved book.

  • What does the Netflix series 'Three-body Problems' reveal about Xi Jinping's control, as discussed in the script?

    -The series suggests that while Xi Jinping may control many areas of public life, he cannot control imagination, as depicted through the creative and alternative world of the series.

  • How does the 'Three-body Problems' series facilitate a global conversation, according to Karishma Vaswani?

    -The series facilitates a global conversation by presenting a fantastical sci-fi mystery that captivates and unites audiences worldwide, steering discussions away from typical geopolitical topics.

  • What unique perspective does Karishma Vaswani share about cultural and literary life bridging gaps between different audiences?

    -Karishma Vaswani suggests that by viewing and discussing the same content through different cultural lenses, audiences can bridge gaps, promoting understanding and shared interests across diverse groups.

  • What governmental influence on science fiction portrayal in China is mentioned in the script?

    -The script mentions that the Chinese government, under Xi Jinping, released guidelines for portraying sci-fi content, emphasizing the showcasing of China's technological advancement.



📚 Three-Body Problem Adaptation Discussed

The script discusses the Netflix adaptation of the Chinese science fiction bestseller 'Three-Body Problem' by Leo Sheehan, focusing on the controversial choice of starting the series during China's Cultural Revolution. Bloomberg opinion columnist Karishma Vaswani highlights the complex depiction of China in the series, sparking debate over its Westernized portrayal versus its Chinese roots. The adaptation, while stirring controversy, captures global attention, challenging the narrative controlled by Chinese authorities and offering a platform for worldwide discussion on Chinese culture and geopolitics.



💡Three-body Problem

The 'Three-body Problem' is a Chinese science fiction bestseller that forms the central narrative of the video's discussion. It's a novel that intertwines historical elements with science fiction, speculating on humanity's encounter with an extraterrestrial civilization. The adaptation of this novel into a Netflix series is a significant point of discussion in the script, emphasizing its global impact and the cultural context it presents.

💡Cultural Revolution

The 'Cultural Revolution' refers to a tumultuous period in Chinese history, which is depicted in the opening scenes of the Netflix adaptation of 'Three-body Problem'. This historical event is often avoided in Chinese discourse due to its violent and controversial nature. Its inclusion in the series highlights the complex portrayal of China's history and generates discussion on how this past is represented in modern media.


The term 'Controversy' in the video refers to the debates surrounding the Netflix series, particularly its starting point during the Cultural Revolution. This controversy stems from how the series portrays a sensitive period in Chinese history and raises questions about the necessity of controversial content in storytelling and its impact on audience perception.


The concept of 'Westernization' in the script pertains to the criticism by some Chinese fans that the Netflix series has Americanized a beloved Chinese story. This illustrates the tension between maintaining cultural authenticity and adapting a story for a global audience, a key point in understanding the series' international reception.


Imagination is mentioned as a realm beyond the control of authoritative figures like Xi Jinping. In the context of the video, it underscores the power of creative storytelling in transcending political and cultural boundaries. The series, through its imaginative narrative, challenges the status quo and offers a diverse perspective on Chinese society.


Geopolitics is referred to in the video as a central theme in the current US-China relationship, often focusing on conflicts and power dynamics. The series is seen as a departure from these typical narratives, opening up a space for global conversations that go beyond political disputes, thus uniting audiences through a shared cultural experience.


Science fiction (sci-fi) is a crucial genre in this context. The 'Three-body Problem' is a sci-fi novel, and its adaptation reflects the growing interest and importance of this genre in China. Sci-fi's role in the video is to showcase how imaginative storytelling can offer alternative perspectives on reality, history, and future possibilities.

💡Global Conversation

Global Conversation in the video refers to the international dialogue sparked by the Netflix series. This concept illustrates how a culturally specific narrative can resonate with a worldwide audience, prompting discussions that transcend national boundaries and cultural differences.

💡Audience Perspectives

Audience Perspectives are highlighted as Chinese and American audiences view the series through different cultural lenses. This diversity of viewpoints underscores the series' role in bridging cultural gaps and fostering a deeper understanding between distinct audiences.

💡Technological Advancement

Technological Advancement is discussed in relation to China's guidelines for portraying sci-fi content, reflecting the government's interest in showcasing its progress in this area. The video suggests that the 'Three-body Problem' predates these guidelines, offering a more unfiltered and perhaps more authentic sci-fi narrative that appeals to global audiences.


The Netflix adaptation of 'Three-Body Problem' starts during China's Cultural Revolution, highlighting a period often avoided in discussions.

Karishma Vaswani suggests the series offers a complex version of China, diverging from the simplified portrayals often seen.

The choice of the Cultural Revolution as a starting point is deemed controversial, raising questions about its necessity.

The series is based on a globally successful book series, appreciated by a loyal fanbase.

There's controversy over Netflix's adaptation being seen as an Americanized version of the beloved book.

The show presents an alternative view of China, different from the image promoted by Xi Jinping.

It highlights the limits of governmental control over imagination and creative expression.

The adaptation sparks a global conversation, transcending typical geopolitical discussions.

Despite not being available in China, people access the series through VPNs, indicating significant interest.

The series allows for a global dialogue through the shared experience of a sci-fi mystery world.

It showcases the power of cultural and literary works in bridging gaps between different audiences worldwide.

The discussion of the series reflects differing perspectives of Chinese and American audiences, bridging cultural gaps.

The series suggests potential for more Chinese sci-fi literature to reach global screens, despite regulatory challenges.

Xi Jinping's government has set guidelines for portraying sci-fi, aiming to showcase China's technological advancement.

The series pre-dates these guidelines, offering a unique view of China's place in the sci-fi genre.



This new science fiction bestseller, Chinese science fiction bestseller


Three-body Problems and a story by author Leo Sheehan portrays a fictional


past, present and future where the Earth encounters a civilization from another


world. The opening scenes of this adaptation on


Netflix, of course, starts during China's Cultural Revolution, a bloody


period that authorities often avoid discussing.


And Bloomberg opinion columnist Karishma Vaswani thinks that a series shines a


light actually, on a more complex version of China.


Karishma joins us right now to talk us through this.


It's fairly, I would say, fairly clear to see why there's controversy around,


particularly around, you know, why they chose this to be the starting point.


Because the question is, did it have to be controversial?


You know what, David? I think it did have to be controversial


in and of itself. I don't know whether you've watched the


series yet. I watched it over the weekend with my


husband. It's it's definitely something that


gets you thinking. And it's based on a series of books, of


course, that were a huge success, not just in China, but around the world


amongst some very loyal fans. And I think it's really interesting the


way the Netflix series decided to start with that scene from the Cultural


Revolution. I don't want to give it away to people


who've not watched it yet, but it is not for the faint hearted to say the least.


And I think that the fact that there has been this controversy around it, you've


got Chinese fans who are saying, well, why has Netflix made this such an


Americanized Westernised version of the much loved book?


And then you've got global fans looking at this.


For some, it's their very first experience of understanding this tale,


this wild, strange world that the author has created that's come out of China but


doesn't look anything like the kind of China that Xi Jinping likes to portray


to the world. And that in and of itself, David, I


feel, is such an achievement because it really portrays this idea that Xi


Jinping may want to control so many areas of public life.


But when it comes to your imagination, he really can't do that, can he?


And it's interesting, as you say, right? I mean, no spoilers, obviously.


I haven't seen it yet, but you really do sell it.


Charisma. You talk about how the show presents an


alternative grow world. Why do you think that's important?


You know, Yvonne, I think it is important because when we look at some


of the fundamental issues between China and the US today, it's always about


geopolitics. It's always about what's happening in


the Taiwan Strait, what's happening in the South China Sea.


How do we resolve the issue of trade tariffs between these two superpower


rivals? But through this series and through the


book, there is a global conversation taking place.


I mean, you know, you just have to look at social media to see the kinds of


opinions that are being reflected as a result of what people are watching


online. I mean, I have to say that, you know,


this is not available in China, but people are watching it through VPNs and


around the world. They're watching it on Netflix.


And now you have this conversation taking place where it's not about Taiwan


and it's not about the South China Sea, but it's about this fantastical world


and this sci fi mystery. And in a way, perhaps this is a bit


idealistic, but forgive me and indulge me a little.


It allows audiences from all over the world to talk about the same thing.


And ultimately, isn't that what we're all about?


We love watching stuff that makes us go, wow, and it brings people together in a


way that I don't think we've seen in quite a while,


which is a lot. Okay, Let me let me let let me build on


that. It does useful exercises in it.


You know, when you have two audiences in your point, Chinese and American


audiences discussing the same thing, but looking at that very same thing through


different lenses is that is this bridging that gap, if you will?


Yeah, I mean, David, you've put it so beautifully, I couldn't have put it


better myself. And I think that lens should be applied


even further in other aspects of cultural film, film rather, and literary


life. You know, there are a number of sci fi


books in China that could make it onto the silver screens, despite the fact


that this genre has been so heavily regulated within China itself.


It was just a few years ago, in fact, that Xi Jinping and the government that


came out with guidelines as to how to portray the sci fi world around in


Chinese screens, on Chinese screens, but also as an export.


And it was very much about showcasing China's technological advancement.


What I think is interesting about this particular series is it came before that


period and I think it is a way for audiences around the world to sort of


relate to each other and realize they all like the same thing.

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Science FictionNetflix SeriesCultural RevolutionChinese Sci-FiGlobal ConversationTechnological AdvancementGeopoliticsImagination UnleashedControversial StartCross-Cultural