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Chinese viewers have mixed reactions to Netflix’s adaptation of ‘Three-Body Problem’ — Radio Free Asia

The Netflix adaptation of Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem” has received mixed reactions in China. Some critics point out a lack of nuance, the majority of the action taking place outside of China, and key characters being portrayed by non-Chinese actors.

On the other hand, some viewers praised the adaptation for Western audiences, noting improvements in the portrayal of female characters.

Even though the show premiered amidst controversy surrounding the sentencing of a producer to death for poisoning, it became Netflix’s most-watched English TV show from March 25-31.

The series includes scenes from the Cultural Revolution era, such as a “struggle session” where physicist Ye Zhetai is beaten to death by Red Guards. These scenes, absent from a local adaptation by Tencent, have contributed to the show being blocked in China.

Despite the ban, Chinese viewers have managed to discuss the show using circumvention tools to bypass government censorship.

Violence under Mao

Reports suggested that the show might be blocked by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department due to its sensitive portrayal of political violence during the Mao era.

The buzz around the show on social media indicates that many viewers managed to watch it, even though it is officially blocked in China.

Publicity still for the Tencent adaptation “Three Body.” (Baidupedia)

The show has sparked a heated discussion on social media platforms, with hashtags garnering billions of views and contrasting reviews compared to the Chinese-made version.

Mixed reviews

Opinions on the show are divided, with some viewers criticizing the adaptation for changing key elements from the original book and featuring non-Chinese actors in prominent roles.

On the other hand, some viewers appreciate the efforts made to cater to Western audiences, notably in the improvement of female characters and the portrayal of foreigners.

The debate continues on whether the Netflix version strays too far from the essence of Liu Cixin’s work, with some praising the adaptation for making necessary changes for English-speaking viewers.

Cultural Revolution

The show’s depiction of the Cultural Revolution remains a point of contention, with some praising its realism and emotional impact, while others criticize it for focusing more on melodrama than the original work’s political and social themes.

Publicity still from Netflix’s “The Three-Body Problem” (Netflix)

The show’s creators defend the inclusion of Cultural Revolution scenes, citing the importance of depicting that period in history. They believe it is essential to confront the past and learn from it, despite the sensitivities surrounding the topic in present-day China.

As the debate rages on about the show’s merits and shortcomings, its impact on Chinese sci-fi adaptations and international audiences remains a topic of discussion.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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