Does Liu Cixin author of the Three Body Problem support the Uighur internment?

From the June 2019 interview with Liu Cixin in The New Yorker.

“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.”

It’s a sad truth that books get voted awards even when – or in some cases specifically because – few people have read them. I have no way to know how many voters for the Hugo awards actually read The Three Body Problem before giving it their support, but I remember being a little bemused by the book’s win. Not because it’s a badly written book – many badly written books have won Hugos – but because the win was widely claimed as a win for “diversity”, while the book itself is somewhat diametrically opposed to the values that might lead to a more diverse world.

2015 was the peak of the Sad Puppies counter-revolutionary campaign against diversity in science fiction. The science fiction writing & publishing community has been going through a culture war in recent years, with the very diverse fandom for sci-fi demanding more recognition in its awards. I’ve supported a more diverse science fiction field at every chance I have had for a simple reasons – science fiction is our modern mythology. For it to have real value, it must include all voices and cultures in our world.

The Three Body Problem is a representation of contemporary Chinese culture, in much the way works of Golden Age science fiction by authors like Robert Heinlein represented the culture of the United States. Which is to say that as a work of science fiction, The Three Body Problem is something of a throwback. It’s a story that sees the universe as fundamentally hostile, life as brutal and short, that demands survival at all costs. As the New Yorker interview says:

“Chinese tech entrepreneurs discuss the Hobbesian vision of the trilogy as a metaphor for cutthroat competition in the corporate world.”

So I wasn’t entirely surprised to see Liu Cixin quoted in support of the Uighur internment in China, recently posted in the Scifi & Fantasy Facebook group. That said, I am also aware that quotes like this often appear out of context and later prove to be only partially true. It’s also possible that Liu Cixin is simply unable to voice any other opinion. However, I would be really interested to know if it does correctly represent the author’s position.

This isn’t – I should add – a call for “cancellation”. I STRONGLY disagree with the trend to cancelling writers we disagree with. The answer to art we find repugnant is to make better art and let audiences choose. But to that end, it is valid for audiences to be interested in the opinions of creators, so they can understand the work they’re engaging with better.

Netflix’s adaptation of The Three Body Problem already struck me as misjudged – the book doesn’t have the depth of character and relationships that “HBO style” shows like Game of Thrones demand. As I’ve written before, the rush to adapt sci-fi / fantasy novels to screen that followed GoT is going to lead to dozens of failed shows, much like the recent cancellation of the dire Altered Carbon.

There are however a few real gems in the canon of science fiction that I would love to see brought to the screen. Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind is a story that would perfectly reflect our moment in 2020. We need to look beyond bestsellers and award winners, and instead read deeply and widely, for the real value in science fiction.

Advanced SciFi & Fantasy

Writing the 21st century myth

Damien Walter, writer on sci-fi and geek culture for The Guardian, BBC, WIRED and graduate of the Clarion writers workshop, leads a journey into scifi and fantasy storytelling.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Does Liu Cixin author of the Three Body Problem support the Uighur internment?

  1. The books are extremely over hyped and at points so pretentious and boring I couldn’t stand it anymore and stopped halfway through the dark forest. At one point we get like 30 pages of the sorta main character talking about how he fell in love with an imaginary character he made up because he’s a “literary genius” and according to cixin that means your characters come to life like some weird schizophrenic hallucination.. Yeah no. It felt so cringy. I stopped. Then checked some spoilers only to find out that the imaginary girl somehow exists for real exactly like in his imagination and he ends up marrying her.

    Then I found out about his horrific Uyghur comments. I genes ally am anti cancel culture but in this case the writer should absolutely be canceled in the west. I would have never expected a guy who writes about the horrors of the cultural revolution to support the brutal modern holocaust, state sanctioned rape, organ harvesting and forced sterilization of an entire ethnicity.

    There are countless ways he could have answered the question without getting into trouble with the CCP but instead he implied that all Uyghurs are barbarian terrorists who can’t wait to cut people into pieces. How the hell can you try to make excuses for this guy? He writes about the intellectuals who were brutally mobbed and killed during the cultural revolution ignoring. Meanwhile apparently the Uyghur professor who got awards from the CCP for being such an examplonary professor and member of society is thrown into a concentration camp because he dared sent his son to Turkey on vacation.

    The story and many of the concepts of his books are interesting but his writing style is horrendously bad. And he only gets so much support and praise becauee “diversity” while there is actually very little diversity. Aside from Ye Wejue there are no good female characters and there is even the imaginary perfect woman doll that becomes real somehow. And no his dry writing style is not because of “Chinese culture”. I’ve seen countless people argue this. But all the Chinese people I have talked to say it had nothing to do with Chinese culture and its just his style of writing.

    Giving a hypocrite literal genocide supporter a platform and popularising him with a netflix shoe is disgusting. The guy didn’t say something questionable. He didn’t say something offensive or slightly racist. He literally is justifying an on going genocide. There is no excuse for that.

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  2. P.s. Please look up the video of a Han Chinese man living in the house of a Uyghur woman and her child. The man ks in a concentration camp and the Han Chinese man ks one of millions of Han Chinese the CCP sent to East Turkestan to live in Uyghur homes and spy / report on them.

    Countless horrific videos are openly shards by the Chinese but one is particularly disgusting where he smugly has the woman feed him, secually harasses her, makes her massage him while making suggestive comments and while forcing her 9 or so year old child to wash his dirty feet.

    Look up the video of the beautiful young Uyghur girl being forcefully married to a minor CCP goon that looks like the ugliest lankiest guy in the whole of China.. She’s about to burst in tears and looks miserable the entire time. Thst girl will be subject to daily state sanctioned rape. If she dares to refuse her entire family is sent to the camps.

    The mother is in an equally horrific situation. Can’t imagine what that subhuman does to her when the cameras are off. He treats her like she and her child are his slaves. And if she dsres say anything she’ll be sent to a concentration camp, she’ll never see her child again who will be sent to a brainwashing camp as hundreds of thousands of Uyghur children.

    Heartbreaking videos of camp survivors talking about torture, gang rape, being forced to take “medicine” that makes them sterile and docile. Survivors who have lost their children to the CCP and will never see them again. That one lady who burst out crying when she sees her daughter in a CCP propaganda video about how great the brainwashing camps are.

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