The Three-Body Problem is a science fiction by the Chinese writer Cixin Liu. The story starts under the background of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Ye Wenjie, who was born into an intellectual family, suffered from the government’s oppression and witnessed her father’s death in a struggle session, and eventually lost faith in humankind. She finds a way to send an interstellar message and receives the message from the planet called Trisolaris. Ye then assists the Trisolarans to invade the earth. The main part of the story tells about how humankind tries to withstand the assault of the Trisolarans over a time span of hundreds of years and imagines the ultimate fate of human civilization.

Unlike in many science fiction, where the stories happen in an imagined future, The Three-Body Problem begins in the past. The origin of the series of events rooted in the China 1960s. The Cultural Revolution serves as the joint point of the imagined and the reality. It not only provides the cause of the three-body problem but also sets the tone of the whole story. The distrust of humankind and rationality stemmed from the Cultural Revolution threads throughout the novel. As Liu expressed in one interview, only after humans’ sins lead to complete disappointment will there be a betrayal of humankind. Such a crime, to his thought, is only suitable during the Cultural Revolution. Liu situates his story at such a particular historical moment, and thus reinvestigates and reflects on the national memory, and brings the disastrous consequence of the history all the way to human’s future.

The Cultural Revolution marks not only the plots but also Liu’s narrative style. One distinctive feature of The Three-Body Problem is the fragile relationship among characters and the feel of homelessness. Through reading the novel, readers could hardly see the compliment of “pure kindness.” Instead, there are always conspiracies and betrayals. Most of the important characters are extremely determined, somber, and even ruthless. Such writing style is inseparable from Liu’s personal experience. Liu was born in 1963 when the Cultural Revolution was approaching. For most Chinese writers born in that period, it is hard to escape the shadow left by that brutal purge movement. In an interview, another Chinese writer Yu Hua, who was also born in China 1960s, recalls the executions as the ‘most thrilling scenes of my childhood, seeing the criminal kneeling on the ground, a soldier aiming a rifle at the back of his head and firing” (Pankaj 24). It’s hard for Yu, as well as anyone who lived in that period, to get rid of the memory of the horror. “I was unable to steer my writing away from bloodshed and violence,” he said, “Writing during the day, I’d have one character killing another, characters dying in pools of blood. At night, asleep, I would dream that I was about to be killed by someone else” (Pankaj, 24). Liu Cixin is also a victim of the Cultural Revolution, and his father was deprived of the job as a cadre during the Cultural Revolution. He and his family were forced to leave their home and lived in poverty. The cannibalism in the Cultural Revolution leads to the distrust of human relations and even humanity itself. The doubt that Ye Wenjie has on humankind runs throughout the whole novel, and the end of the story seemingly shows the author’s negative attitude to the survival of human civilization. Through all the moral, credit, and civilization crisis, the imprint of the national traumatic event manifests itself in the story.


En, H. (2019, February 21). 刘慈欣的科幻创作之路 (Liu Cixin’s Creation of Science Fictions). Sohu News.

Jingjing, Wang. “The Impact of Cultural Revolution in the Three Body.” National Social Science Database.

Mishra, P. (2009, May 8). The Bonfire of China’s Vanities – Yu Hua and the Chinese Boom Years.    The New York Times.