Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin is perhaps best known for the Remembrance of the Earth's Past trilogy, which is sometimes referred to by the name of the first book, The Three Body Problem, which was the first Asian novel to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel; it also helped kick-off the current Chinese science fiction renaissance. Earlier this summer, it was announced that the Game of Thrones TV producers would be adapting The Three Body Problem into a Netflix TV series.
But one year ago, Liu sat down for a lengthy interview with The New Yorker writer Jiayang Fan. At one point in the interview, Fan pressed him on the systemic internment and potential genocide of the largely-Muslim Uighur ethnic minority group by the government of the People's Republic of China.
Liu had this to say about the Uighurs:
Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.
Later in the interview, Liu — whose Three Body Problem is notably woven with some cleverly subversive criticism of the Chinese government — added that, "If China were to transform into a democracy, it would be hell on earth."
Now, five Republican US Senators — Martha McSally, Rick Scott, Kevin Cramer, Thom Tillis, and Marsha Blackburn — have written a letter to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, urging the company to cancel the adaptation of The Three Body Problem in response to Liu's comments, saying:
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing atrocities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), also known as East Turkistan to locals, including mass imprisonment, forced labor, thought transformation in order to denounce religion and culture, involuntary medical testing, and forced sterilization and abortion. These crimes are committed systemically and at a scale which may warrant a distinction of genocide. Sadly, a number of U.S. companies continue to either actively or tacitly allow the normalization of, or apologism for, these crimes. The decision to produce an adaptation of Mr. Liu's work can be viewed as such normalization.
Despite being the leader of this call to cancel a TV show over Islamophobic comments, Senator Marsha Blackburn has ironically criticized so-called "cancel culture" in recent months. Similarly, Rick Scott has also decried "cancel culture," while he himself has been criticized for enabling anti-Muslim sentiment. While Thom Tillis has lambasted anti-Muslim governments abroad, he also didn't mind Trump's Muslim ban, and has recently come under fire for making comments about the moral shortcomings of people based on their ethnic group. Martha McSally is known to invoke Islamophobic humor and has also supported Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Indeed, it's easier to (rightly) call out Islamophobia when it also lets you double down on Sinophobic rhetoric.
This controversy comes on the heels of the recent backlash against Disney's live-action adaptation of Mulan, which was criticized for filming in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where the concentration camps are located. Republican Senators have also recently tried to censor Netflix for releasing the film Cuties, accusing the director of creating child pornography for making a movie about the damaging consequences of sexualizing pre-teen girls in dance competitions.
Netflix has insisted it will stand firm and continue moving forward with the adaptation of The Three Body Problem. "Netflix judges individual projects on their merits," the company said in a statement. "Mr. Liu is the author of the book — The Three Body Problem — not the creator of this show. We do not agree with his comments, which are entirely unrelated to his book or this Netflix show."
Netflix's Three-Body Problem Decried by U.S. Senators Over Liu Cixin's Muslim Commentary [James Whitbrook / Gizmodo]
Republican Senators Challenge Netflix Over Chinese Sci-Fi Adaptation [Variety]
Liu Cixin's War of the Worlds [Jiayang Fan / The New Yorker]
'Three Body Problem': Netflix defends itself after being accused of normalising persecution of Uighur Muslims [Annabel Nugent / The Independent]
Netflix faces call to rethink Liu Cixin adaptation after his Uighur comments [Alison Flood / The Guardian]
Image via YouTube