Course:ASIA351/2022/The Three Body Problems

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The Three Body Problems is a long-running work of science fiction written by Liu Cixin. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, which consists of The Three Body Problems, Three Bodies 2: The Dark Forest, and Three Bodies 3: Death's End. It became one of the best-selling full-length science fiction novels in mainland China upon publication. [1]

The first book was serialized in Science Fiction World magazine beginning in May 2006, the second in May 2008, and the third in November 2010.

The work tells the story of the exchange of information, the life-and-death struggle between the human civilization of Earth and the three-body civilization, and the rise and fall of the two civilizations in the universe. In the first novel, three solar-type stars orbit each other in an unsteady three-body system, and Earth comes into contact with an extraterrestrial civilization there.[2]

The first novel, translated by Liu Yuquan, won the 73rd Hugo Award for Best Long Form Novel and was nominated for the 2014 Nebula Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.[3][4]

The Three Body Problems
The Three Body Problem
Author Liu Cixin
Title The Three Body Problems
Country China
Language Chinese
Genre Science fiction
Publication date 2008

Historical background

The Three-Body Problem's creator As a full-time engineer, Liu Cixin writes in his spare time. He completes each portion in roughly a year and averages 3,000 to 5,000 words per day while he is not working.[5] The Three-Body Problem, the first novel, was published as a standalone after being serialized in Science Fiction World magazine from May to December 2006 and receiving favorable reviews.[6]

Many conditions favorable to the creation of science fiction emerged in the 1990s as the Chinese government increased its propaganda for the "development of the country through science and technology" and the advancement of science and technology.[7] At the same time, the creative workforce, which mainly consisted of science and technology workers, was gradually renewed, and some elite readers who had been segregated from science fiction fans eventually became writers.[8][9]

Since 1999, Liu Cixin has written a number of short and medium-length stories that have been published in Science Fiction World. [10]Liu Cixin made the decision to stop writing short and medium-length stories after he released the short story "The Mountain" in January 2006. After receiving several letters from people requesting that he create a full-length story, Liu Cixin decided not to.[11] "A star system with three stars orbiting incongruently" Originally intended as a short story, he realized that it would make a good novel and combined it with Wu Yan's account of humanity's heedless exploration of space in China Orbit. He then set the entire narrative during the Cultural Revolution and described some of the characters' interactions with extraterrestrial forces as well as the Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Under the influence of a publisher, he altered the original idea to become a lengthy trilogy series on a specific human journey from the 1960s to 500 years later.[12]

Synopsis/Plot Summary

The Three Body Problems

Red Coast Base

Set in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution in China, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics student from Tsinghua University, witnesses her father, an influential physicist, being accused of intellectual elitism and beaten to death by the Red Guards. This event greatly traumatizes Ye as she discontinues her study at Tsinghua University and joins a labour brigade. During her time in the labour brigade, she becomes a victim of public reporting for reading prohibited books, and Ye is sentenced to prison. In prison, Ye is offered two options; being executed for violating the law or being recruited to use her expertise in astrophysics to serve the country in forms of labour reform. Ye undoubtedly chooses the second option. She is now a part of the Red Coast Operation.

After being part of the operation for a while, Ye discovers the true intention of this operation: to search and contact extraterrestrial civilizations. She utilizes the Sun to amplify the radio waves to archive frequencies that can reach millions of light years away. Through this discovery, Ye sends an interstellar message including the basic information about Earth along with the development of human civilizations to potential possible extraterrestrial civilizations. Ye’s message is received by an alien pacifist coded 1379 on the planet Trisolaris. Due to the unstable environment and inhabitants of Trisolaris, 1397 is certain as soon as its civilization locates the origin of this message, they will invade Earth. It warns Ye about the situation and potential damage its civilization can bring to Earth, and it sends a simple yet effective message back to Earth: “Do not reply! Do not reply! Do not reply!”

Eight years later, now married to Yang Weining and mother of Yang Dong, Ye receives the message back from Trisolaris. Despite the warnings and hazard 1379 states in the message, Ye ignored it and responded anyways. The disappointment of humankind and endless political issues leads to Ye inviting the civilizations in Trisolaris to invade Earth, in the hope to settle its problems and advance the human civilizations together.

After the Cultural Revolution ended, Ye acquaint Mike Evans who is the son of the CEO of the world’s most profitable company. Through interactions and conversations, Ye discovers Mike is an anti-speciesist, and Ye informs Mike about Operation Red Coast and her successes in communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations. They soon created the Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO) and uses a giant commercial ship as their base to receive further messages from the Trisolaris. Their organization soon gains countless loyal members, and Ye is appointed by the Trisolaris as their representative on Earth. They have also released the message of the departure of their forces, but it will not reach the Solar System until 450 years later. In the meantime, civilizations from Trisolaris send out a nano-technical micro-supercomputer named Zhi Zi to Earth. The micro-supercomputer is created using the superior technology in Trisolaris, and it is not only unobservable but to some extent affects the nervous system of humans. Its purpose is to stop any technological advancement on Earth before the arrival of the Trisolaris forces.

Countless scientists, includes Yang Dong, daughter of Ye, in each field do not seek any progression in their research due to the presence of Zhi Zi decided to commit suicide. Wang Miao, a nanotechnology professor, along with Shi Qiang, a cunning veteran in the Sino-Vietnamese War, is appointed by the officials to investigate the mysterious death of elite scientists. As their investigation progresses, Wang discovers a virtual-reality video game named The Three Body and begins to follow this lead. The game is created by the ETO as a recruitment tool, and the game depicts the lives of Earth after the invasion of the Trisolaris civilization. After Wang finished the game, he is asked to join the ETO as a member. Wang provides several critical intelligence during his time as a spy in the organization, and he introduced the presence of extraterrestrial civilizations and their invasion to the public. This declares war between the ETO and the rest of the Earth, and the organization is deemed an enemy to all humankind. The sink of their base marks the victory of the humans on Earth. They acknowledge the fact that the Trisolaris forces will arrive on Earth in 450 years, so all countries let aside its traditional rivalries to prepare for war.[13]

Main characters

Please include critical comments you could find from other sources.

Ye Wenjie(叶文洁)

An astrophysicist student at Tsinghua University. Her father is executed during the cultural revolution, and her mother is emotionally ill. She is the first person to archive communication with an extraterrestrial civilization while serving at the Red Coast Base. She marries Yang Weining and is the mother of Yang Dong. Her beliefs and actions results in the invasion of Trisolarans. Founds the ETO and is appointed as the representative for Trisolaris on Earth. Her actions influences key events in the series as the story unfolds.[14]

Code 1379 (1379号)

A pacifist Trisolaran who works at a signal receiving station by itself. It is considered a lower class in the Trisolaran society. It believes its life will not improve even if the Trisolarans invades Earth. As a result, it warns Ye Wenjie about the dangerous situation and informs her about the Trisolarans’ actions.[14]

Mike Evans (麦克 伊文斯)

Son of the CEO of the most profitable company in the world. A radical environmentalist. After meeting with Ye Wenjie, he strongly agree with the idea of letting Trisolarans setting the current environmental and poitical issues in Earth. He founded the ETO with Ye Wenjie, and he is the main source of funding of the organization.[15]

Wang Miao(汪淼)

The protagonist of the story, and a nanotechnology researcher and professor. He is assigned to work with Shi Qiang to investigate the mysterious death of many scientistic. As the investigation progresses, he discovers the game The Three Body and becomes a member of the ETO spy to collect intelligence. Through the game The Three Body, he learns about Trisolaris and informs the public about a potential invasion from an extraterrestrial civilization. Also plays key part in the battles against the ETO.[12]

Shi Qiang (史强)

A cunning police detective and a member of the counter-terrorism operation. A veteran in the Sino-Vietnamese War. He is assigned to work with Wang Miao to investigate the death of scientists. He is reliable, highly dependable and demonstrates unique sights. He is given the title of commander general during the operation to take down ETO.[13]


As Liu Cixin said at the Science Fiction Symposium in 2013, "the work is finished, and it is everyone's right to interpret it, I will not explain it".[16] The readership of "The Three Body Problems" is huge, and different people have different interpretations of its themes.

Most people choose to interpret the novel from the perspective of science and technology. According to Zheng Jun, the story is set in a period when all mankind is fighting against global catastrophes, forming a Community of Shared Future and devoting major resources to technology in order to use technological development to save human civilization.[16] It shows the author envisions the overall development of science and technology in the future, illustrating the theme that science is the most important thing, and that the technological elite should dominate the most important resources to promote the development and progress of science and technology for all mankind.[16]

Many people look at the novel from a philosophical perspective, considering its theme to be "The Sorrow of Life Ontology".[15] In other words, it is a reflection on the survival of human beings and the meaning of their existence. Based on the cosmic level, the author predicts the infinite possibilities of the human future.[15] What will happen to mankind when it masters advanced science and technology? When human nature is put to the test, what will mankind do?

Zhang Ruirui supposes that "The Three Body Problems" embodies Liu Cixin's strong humanistic concern.[15] He believes in the power of love and hopes that love can save all of humanity. The novel expresses that love is not a necessary condition for survival in the universe, but it is the meaning of human existence and the essence that distinguishes human civilization from other civilizations.[15] The novel revolves around this greatest love that is unique to humanity, which is one of the themes of the work.


Chinese cultural soft power received an remarkable improvement when Liu Cixin, the author of The Three Body Problem, is both the first Chinese and the first Asian writer to win the international Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy in 2015[17]. Liu Cixin has a profound impact on Chinese cultural circle. Although Chinese contemporary literature has evolved over the last few decades, it has long been associated with the representation of native life and mental state of Chinese people. Vigor has been lost from Chinese contemporary literature for a long time. However, Liu Cixin, the author of The Three Body Problem, instilled a dose of vitality into Chinese contemporary literature by exploring a fictional landscape, where characters are not limited to china and even our planet. In a word, Liu not only makes the genre of science fiction a big success in Chinese literature, but also makes Chinese literature move its focus from native stuff to international writing stuff. Apart from the influence on the writing topic of Chinese literature, Liu is also famous for his characteristic writing style. Liu's novels are highly regarded by not only scientists but also professional critics for its remarkable mix of scientific expertise and unlimited imaginations of the destiny of humankind, our earth and the whole universe. His novels comprise upper classes and are praised by many urban followers all over the world.[18]


2006 China Galaxy Awards -- special award[19]
2010 China Galaxy Awards -- special award[20]
2011 China Xingyun Awards for Global Chinese Science Fiction -- gold award[20]
2013 China West Lake Literature Awards -- gold award[21]
2013 China Outstanding Children’s Literature Awards -- science fiction award[20]
2014 Nebula Awards -- novel -- nomination[22]
2015 Hugo Awards -- novel -- winner[23]
2015 John W. Campbell Memorial Award -- finalist[24]
2015 Locus Awards -- sf novel -- 2nd place[25]
2015 Prometheus Awards -- nomination[26]
2017 Dragon Awards -- sf novel -- nomination[27]
2017 Locus Awards -- sf novel -- winner[28]



Television series


  • "The Three-Body Problem in Minecraft" animation series currently consists of three parts, namely "The Three-Body Problem", "The Legend of Luo Ji" and "The Legend of Zhang Beihai", which have been online in 2014, 2016 and 2020, with the fourth part tentatively scheduled to release in 2024. The series is directed by Li Zhenyi and produced in the style of the 3D sandbox game "Minecraft".[29]
  • "The Three Body Problems" is a 2022 computer animation series produced by Bilibili. The animation consists of 18 episodes and Bilibili announced that the series will premiere on December 3, 2022.[29]

Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin is a Chinese author born in Beijing June 23 1963, and raised in Yangquan city, Shanxi Province.[31] [32] He graduated from North China University of Water Conservancy and Electric Power in October of 1985 and worked as a computer engineer until his writing career took off.[33] His first published work "Whale Song" was published on Science Fiction World in June 1999, and his first full length novel was China 2185 (unreleased).[34] Since then he has written a variety of Science Fiction Novels; some of the most notable works being his novels The Era of Supernova (2003), Ball Lightning (2004), Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (2006's The Three Body Problem, 2008's The Dark Forest, 2010's Death's End), and his short and medium stories "The Wandering Earth" (2000), "The Rural Teacher" (2001), and "Full Spectrum Barrage Jamming" (2001).[31] In 2014, American author Ken Liu translated and published The Three Body Problem to the Americas.[33] The novel was a massive hit, even winning the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel.[33][31] Since then, Liu Cixin's other works have been translated and published for the larger world to read and enjoy.

Liu Cixin won the Chinese Galaxy Award straight from 1999 to 2006, and has presently won this award a total of nine times.[31][32] He has also won the Zhao Shuli Literature award in 2010, the 2011 Xingyun (Nebula) Award of Global Chinese Science Fiction in Best Novel and the 2010 and 2011 Xingyun Awards for Best Science Fiction Writer, the 2012 People's Literature Roushi Award Short Story Gold Award, the 2013 Gold Award for West Lake Type Literature Prize and the Ninth National Outstanding Children's Literature Award.[31] In 2015, his novel The Three Body Problem won the Hugo Award, making Liu the first-ever Asian to do so.[32] The Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy has been translated into twenty languages and sold over eight millions copies worldwide.[35] Liu Cixin's international fame has become a source of national pride for Chinese citizens, and his success has helped shape Chinese citizens' mainstream taste for Science Fiction. Two of his works have even been embedded into the Chinese middle school and high school curriculum.[32]

Further reading

1.     Journal article After 1989: The New Wave of Chinese Science Fiction is worth

2.     Book review:《刘慈欣科幻小说与当代中国的文化状况》

3.   《纽约客》:刘慈欣的小说是对极限问题的哲学思考

4.     Journal article:Liu Cixin. In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., Cham, pp. 1-11.


  1. 陈, 熙涵 (2012 11/30). "《三体》选定英文版美国译者". 文汇报. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. Liu, Cixin (December 2009). The Three-body Problem. Chongqing Press. ISBN 9780765377067.
  3. "2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced". The Hugo Awards. AUGUST 22, 2015. Retrieved 2022.11.19. |first= missing |last= (help); Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  4. "The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Published by Tor) Nominated for Best Novel in 2014". Nebula Awards. Retrieved 2022.11.19. line feed character in |title= at position 23 (help); Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. 雷, 剑峤 (2010-10-17). "欢迎进入"三体纪元"". 南方都市报.
  6. 王, 晓易. "刘慈欣:穿梭于神话与现实之间". 中国经济网. Retrieved 2022.11.20. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  7. 孔, 庆东 (2003年03期). "中国科幻小说概说". 涪陵师范学院学报: 37-45. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. 王, 山 (1997-10-28). "时代呼唤科幻文学". 文艺报.
  9. 宋, 明炜 (2013.06). "新世纪科幻小说:中国科幻的浪潮". 文学. 2013春夏卷: 第5-7页. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. "刘慈欣:让外国人知道中国也有科幻". 网易新闻. Retrieved 2022.11.20. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. 王, 晓易. "刘慈欣:穿梭于神话与现实之间". 网易新闻. Retrieved 2022.11.20. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. 12.0 12.1 雷, 剑峤 (2010-10-17). "欢迎进入"三体纪元"". 南方都市报.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Liu, Cixin (December 2009). The Three-body Problem. Chongqing Press. p. 399. ISBN 9780765377067.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "《三体》科幻与现实距离远不远?". 大众数字报. 2011-10-11[. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 张, 瑞瑞 (June 2018). "刘慈欣科幻小说的隐喻研究 -- 以《三体》系列为例". Master thesis – via CNKI.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 郑, 军 (December 2015). "《三体》只能从科技文化角度去解读". 科普创作通讯. 160 – via CNKI.
  17. Jaivin, Linda (2016). CULTURE—CLEANING UP from Pollution. Australia: ANU Press. pp. 133–138.
  18. Lam, Adam (February 9, 2022). The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. pp. 1–11. ISBN 978-3-319-62592-8.
  19. 董, 仁威 (March 2017). "中国科幻大事记(1891年至2017年)之三". 中国作家网.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 饶, 翔; 郭, 超 (November 2019). "《三体》的传播与影响". 中国作家网.
  21. 金, 莹 (April 2013). "首届"西湖·类型文学双年奖"揭晓 — 科幻作家刘慈欣凭借《三体》摘金". 中国作家网. 文学报.
  22. "2014 Nebula Awards". Nebula Awards. June 2015.
  23. "2015 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. August 2015.
  24. "2015 Campbell and Sturgeon Awards Winners". Locus. June 2015.
  25. "2015 Locus Awards Winners". Locus. June 2015.
  26. "2015 Prometheus Award Winner". Locus. July 2015.
  27. "2017 Dragon Awards Winners". Locus. September 2017.
  28. "2017 Locus Awards Winners". Locus. June 2017.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 县, 豪 (November 2022). "「三体宇宙」,终于要动起来了". 百家号. 时光网Mtime.
  30. Moore, Kasey; Asatryan, Tigran (October 2022). "'The Three-Body Problem' Netflix Series: Everything We Know So Far". What’s on Netflix.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 "Liu Cixin". YangQuan, China. April 18, 2019. Retrieved Nov, 18, 2022. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Fan, JiaYang (June 17, 2019). "Liu Cixin's War of the Worlds". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 19, 2022.
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Richardson, Nick (February 8, 2018). "Even What Doesn't Happen is Epic". London Review of Books. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  34. "刘慈欣与他的科幻创作". Digitaling. February 12, 2019. Retrieved November 19, 2022. |first= missing |last= (help)
  35. Unherd (July 19, 2021). "China's most famous novelist is compromised". The Post. Retrieved November 19, 2020.