Worldcrunch Magazine

“3 Body Problem” — The Netflix Series Triggering New U.S.-China Tensions

- Pierre Haski / France Inter

PARIS — It was inevitable, the Cold War climate between the U.S. and China is creeping into all sectors, including, this time surroundin­g, a new hit Netflix series.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army website launched a scathing attack against the “American cultural hegemony,” while internet nationalis­ts denounced Americans’ deceitfuln­ess.

That’s where the problems begin, and where Chinese pride is wounded. Netflix made the story less Chinese and more Western. The People’s Army said, “it’s clear that after acquiring intellectu­al property rights with their superpower, the U.S. wanted to transform and remodel everything. The aim was to lower the reputation of modern China.” End of quote… and it’s severe.

This part of the original story is respected by Netflix. But, whereas in the novel, it’s a modern China that organizes the defense of Earth, the American screenwrit­ers moved the central location of the story to Oxford, England. All that’s left of China is its despotic period, and the character of the “traitor” who makes a pact with the enemy!

According to the New York Times, commenters on Chinese Social media platforms objected that the series is not set entirely in China; that the main characters are not all Chinese but instead racially diverse; that one of the main characters has been switched from a man to a woman and, in their eyes, the actress was not pretty enough.

Some commenters said that the series was made mainly because Netflix, or rather the West, wanted to depict China in demonized way by showing the political violence during the Cultural Revolution.

Can one conclude that this series is anti-Chinese? It’s not that simple. Netflix needed to make the series more universal than the original novel in order to reach a wider audience. And in keeping with the political correctnes­s of the moment, the main characters represent a clever ethnic mix, with a young, Chinese woman living in the West as the heroine. But for Beijing, this is China-bashing.

What does this controvers­y reveal? First, the mistrust between the two superpower­s is so strong that everything becomes the object of conflict and rivalry, even a Netflix series.

But above all, it reveals a major Chinese weakness: its inability to deploy “soft power,” or a “gentle” influence, which Americans do so well. “The Three-Body Problem” is the most important cultural piece to come from China in a decade, acclaimed by sci-fi fans worldwide, including former U.S. President Barack Obama.

The rights to the adaptation were shared between China and the rest of the world, through two distinct projects. But in the end, Netflix won and imposed its vision, not the Chinese tech giant Tencent, which produced its own version of the story that was subject to censorship.

Beijing finds this hard to swallow, which explains the virulence of its comments against “American imperialis­m.”

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia