Five Republican senators sent a letter to Netflix challenging the company’s plans to produce a series based on Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem because the author, in a 2019 New Yorker interview, defended Chinese repression against the Uighurs.
The letter to Netflix is signed by Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). The Republican members “ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr. Liu in producing this project” due to Liu Cixin’s 2019 comments, and pose the question, “Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?”
The full text of the Senators’ letter says:
We write today with questions regarding a decision by Netflix to adapt and promote “The Three-Body Problem” by Mr. Liu Cixin as a live-action series on your network.
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.
In an interview with the New Yorker last summer, when asked about the ongoing atrocities in XUAR, Mr. Liu parroted CCP talking points accusing all Uyghurs of being terrorists, then stating, “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty…If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.” When the interviewer draws similarities to Mr. Liu’s trilogy, in which Australia’s population is enslaved and find that they prefer totalitarianism to democracy, Liu implies that she has been brainwashed by the West and that she, “with [her] inflexible sense of morality, was the alien.”
While Congress seriously considers the systemic crimes carried out against the Uyghurs, we have significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda. In the face of such atrocities in XUAR, there no longer exist corporate decisions of complacency, only complicity.
In light of these concerns, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:
1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?
2. Were Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Liu Cixin regarding the CCP’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.
3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publically or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.
4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?
Netflix’s company culture statement asserts that “Entertainment, like friendship, is a fundamental human need; it changes how we feel and gives us common ground.” This statement is a beautiful summary of the value of the American entertainment industry, which possesses innovation largely unmatched in the global market. We ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr. Liu in producing this project.
We appreciate your swift and detailed response to these inquiries.
The opening novel of a trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, for which Liu became the first writer in Asia to win the Hugo Award in 2015, is set during the Cultural Revolution when humans establish contact with an alien civilization on the edge of extinction. After the aliens invade earth, humans split off into two camps: one in favor of takeover by the superior aliens and the other determined to resist.
The controversial passage of the June 2019 New Yorker interview, “Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds”, says this:
…When I brought up the mass internment of Muslim Uighurs—around a million are now in reëducation camps in the northwestern province of Xinjiang—he trotted out the familiar arguments of government-controlled media: “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.” The answer duplicated government propaganda so exactly that I couldn’t help asking Liu if he ever thought he might have been brainwashed. “I know what you are thinking,” he told me with weary clarity. “What about individual liberty and freedom of governance?” He sighed, as if exhausted by a debate going on in his head. “But that’s not what Chinese people care about. For ordinary folks, it’s the cost of health care, real-estate prices, their children’s education. Not democracy.”
I looked at him, studying his face. He blinked, and continued, “If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.” I remembered a moment near the end of the trilogy, when the Trisolarans, preparing to inhabit Earth, have interned the whole of humanity in Australia:
“The society of resettled populations transformed in profound ways. People realized that, on this crowded, hungry continent, democracy was more terrifying than despotism. Everyone yearned for order and a strong government. . . . Gradually, the society of the resettled succumbed to the seduction of totalitarianism, like the surface of a lake caught in a cold spell.”
Liu closed his eyes for a long moment and then said quietly, “This is why I don’t like to talk about subjects like this. The truth is you don’t really—I mean, can’t truly—understand.” He gestured around him. “You’ve lived here, in the U.S., for, what, going on three decades?” The implication was clear: years in the West had brainwashed me. In that moment, in Liu’s mind, I, with my inflexible sense of morality, was the alien.
And so, Liu explained to me, the existing regime made the most sense for today’s China, because to change it would be to invite chaos. “If China were to transform into a democracy, it would be hell on earth,” he said. “I would evacuate tomorrow, to the United States or Europe or—I don’t know.” The irony that the countries he was proposing were democracies seemed to escape his notice. He went on, “Here’s the truth: if you were to become the President of China tomorrow, you would find that you had no other choice than to do exactly as he has done.”
It was an opinion entirely consistent with his systems-level view of human societies, just as mine reflected a belief in democracy and individualism as principles to be upheld regardless of outcomes. I was reminded of something he wrote in his afterword to the English edition of “The Three-Body Problem”: “I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.”