Intro to the Drama – Three Body 三体



Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through Chinese dramas. We are your hosts Cathy and Karen. For today’s podcast episode, we are going to dive into the sci-fi drama Three Body. This is a special episode thanks to our sponsor Jubao TV. Peacock recently added the original Chinese version of Three Body in February 2024. Jubao TV will also add Three Body to its line up in March 2024 so if you are interested in watching Three Body, feel free to check it out on Peacock and Jubao all with English subtitles.

This podcast episode is in English with proper nouns spoken in Mandarin Chinese. We will also be posting this episode transcript on our website,


Three Body or 三体 is a 30 episode Chinese sci fi drama that aired on Jan 15, 2023 on CCTV 8 and Tencent. The drama was based on a book called Three Body Problem written by 刘慈欣 who was trained as an engineer before turning to writing. The Three Body Problem is a trilogy with the first book published in 2006 in Chinese. It has since been translated into English and I remember one of my colleagues raving about the book a few years ago when he read it in English. The book itself was highly popular and won numerous awards in China. Wikipedia has a good list of the awards and I could say them here but I’ll be honest, I don’t know the gravitas of the awards. In any case, the book had great critical and commercial reception and I feel like it was everywhere even in the West right before the pandemic. 

I personally did not read Three Body in either language, but I did read the prequel to Three Body called Ball Lightning. It was a shorter and more straightforward book about the formal discovery and weaponization of ball lightning. There’s one character Ding Yi that appears in both books. I read that book in Chinese and see that there’s now an English translation. 

What is this book Three Body and the drama about? Here’s the general plot for the first half of the drama. 


The year is 2007. Scientists from around the world are mysteriously committing suicide. Governments from around the world are questioning if there’s a nefarious force pushing these scientists to commit suicide. Nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao receives a visit from detective Shi Qiang to ask him about a group called Frontiers of Science. Shi Qiang brings Wang Miao back to a museum that has now become the headquarters for the investigation. Wang Miao looks at the list of recently deceased scientists and is surprised to see the name Yang Dong. She is the daughter of well-respected Qing Hua Astrophysicist Ye Wen Jie and fiancé to fellow scientist Ding Yi. Based on, Wang Miao’s knowledge of Yang Dong, he doesn’t believe she would commit suicide.

Shi Qiang wants Wang Miao to go undercover and become a member of Frontiers of Science to uncover its mysteries. The group regularly hosts sessions led by Shen Yu Fei to discuss topics on physics and philosophy that attracts scientists from all over the world. Wang Miao had previously attended one of the sessions, which is why Shi Qiang reached out to him. By the looks of it, Yang Dong also had some connections to Frontiers of Science.

Wang Miao initially refuses to take part in Shi Qiang’s investigation but when at home, finds mysterious numbers on photos he took, after developing them. He realizes that these numbers are all a countdown that are only uniquely visible to him. He has no choice but to turn to Shi Qiang to help him track down the mysteries to all of this and agrees to re-engage with Shen Yu Fei and the Frontiers of Science. Shen Yu Fei has her own motives and informs Wang Miao of a game called Three Body, to which both Wang Miao and Shi Qiang enter into this futuristic game on civilizations and the three body problem. 

As Wang Miao tries to solve the game, he brings his questions to professor Ye Wen Jie. She begins to share her perspective on the Three Body game. She also begins to recount her own history during the Cultural Revolution and eventually the restricted Red Coast. As she shares her story, Shi Qiang begins to suspect her involvement in these events. The duo of Wang Miao and Shi Qiang turn their attention towards learning about Ye Wen Jie’s background. 

As Wang Miao and Shi Qiang dig into the Frontiers of Science, they gradually discover a threat that is bigger than the world has ever seen before. 


As you can tell, this drama covers a lot of rather serious topics and is quite the brain teaser. But before we talk more about the reception for this drama, let us introduce the main cast. The cast for this drama is more seasoned. They don’t really pop up in the historical or even modern day romances that are popular with online netizens but they’re very well respected, with several in the cast winning numerous awards for this or other dramas. 


张鲁一 plays 汪淼 – ADD – Zhang Lu Yi plays the lead character of Wang Miao. This 43 year old actor is from Beijing and graduated from China’s Central Academy of Drama. He’s been around the block for a while and has been nominated for a number of acting awards before taking the role here in Three Body.


于和伟 plays 史强 – This 52 year old actor is also a celebrated veteran in the industry with many acting award nominations and awards. Originally from Liao Ning province and a graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy, Yu He Wei has a long repertoire of dramas under his name. He is actually ranked by the Chinese government as a first tier actor or 中华人民共和国一级演员. That I believe is one of the highest honors available for an actor or actress in China. Only very few select individuals are given this title.   



陈瑾 plays 叶文洁 older  – Chen Jin is an actress we’ve seen in various capacities. At 59, she still has a steady output of quality work.  She was 齐衡’s mother in The Story of Ming Lan and also the adoptive mother of Xu Qin and birth mother to 孟宴臣 in last summer’s Fireworks of My Heart. She is very well respected in the industry and I would assume she appreciated being given such an interesting and complicated role. 


王子文 plays 叶文洁 younger – I feel like she was at peak popularity maybe in 2016 as part of the cast of 欢乐颂 or Ode To Joy season one. In that drama she played 曲筱绡 which garnered a lot of praise and interest. We loved watching her in an older drama 家的N次方. She was on a stint for a reality dating show which captured some eyeballs for a bit but I feel like she’s been out of the public eye for a while. This is a triumphant return for her as this is a drama that showcases her acting abilities. 


李小冉 plays 申玉菲 – she’s been in the public eye for over 2 decades and we’ll definitely be seeing her in Joy of Life 2 as the Emperor’s sister. At 47 years old, she still looks amazing. If I can look as good as she does at 47, I will be a very happy camper. 




This drama is one where the public or viewership reception wasn’t as great as the critical reception. Critically, the drama has been nominated for awards left right and center like this year at the 26th Asian television awards and the 2nd annual 第2届中国电视剧年度盛典 award that doesn’t have an english translation but it’s something like the annual Chinese television awards. From production to the drama itself, to the main cast, many parts of the drama were nominated for various awards. On Douban, it currently holds an 8.7.  Plus, this is one of the first sci fi dramas to air within mainland China which speaks to the technological advances of television production and willingness to broach the subject which has long been a stronghold in the west. When you think about sci fi, you think hollywood – star wars, star trek etc. China coming forward with their own sci fi series is a big step for them 


Ratings wise though, when it started airing last year in January 2023 on CCTV, numbers weren’t ideal. It was certainly overshadowed by the likes of Knockout or 狂飙 and then buzz from other dramas like 漫长的季节 The Long Season took over such that even though this drama had strong critical reception, Chinese audiences weren’t buying it. 


Interestingly there is going to be a western version premiering soon. The three body problem will air on netflix on March 21 and stars Benedict Wong and Jess Hong in the main two roles. It’s only going to be 8 episodes for the premiering season so you could all binge watch it in one day theoretically. 



This is one of the first sci-fi dramas I’ve watched in Chinese and honestly, it was a bit tough to get me engaged in the first couple of episodes. There’s a lot of scientific terms that quite frankly, I, and I suspect, most of the Chinese population just aren’t familiar with. They might seem pretty easy to understand with the english translation of astrophysics, string theorist, theoretical physicist, but it was a bit difficult to follow at first. I did appreciate that the drama had characters try to explain the problem in simple terms but those pauses did stop the momentum. 


There were two main draws for me with this story and the show itself.


The first is the video game of Three Body shown in the drama. Once the characters began playing the three body game, that truly opened up the world of drama for me and had me hooked. The drama did a good job explaining the rules of the game and the goal that each of the players are trying to accomplish. Solve the mystery of Three Body. I’m honestly astonished at how well the CGI was for the Three Body game. It’s not the typical CGI that we typically see for fantasy dramas but it’s kind of like motion acting video games brought forth to the drama. 


There’s so much detail in this world that I rewatched a couple of episodes just for those scenes. I don’t want to spoil much because of how enjoyable it was but it was pretty cool to see different historical eastern figures and western figures come together in this game. The character of Wang Miao shines in this odd game world. A, he looks SO cool in the video game, and B he has the most interesting interactions with NPCs and other players in the video game as they jump through eras, trying to solve the Three Body Problem. On a side note, the first time Wang Miao and Shi Qiang play the game, the two of them are separated in the game. Shi Qiang leaves a bunch of random characters in the game and says – 我的淼淼呢? Or Where’s my 淼淼 and I died laughing. Miao Miao is a very colloquial nickname that Shi Qiang would never say to Wang Miao’s name in person but he just randomly threw it out in the game. That was funny.


The other draw for me was Ye Wen Jie’s backstory. Ye Wen Jie was a young woman when the Cultural Revolution went into full swing in China in the late 1960s through the mid 1970s. Her father was a well respected Physicist who taught at 清华 university. Her mother was also an academic. Ye Wen Jie studied astrophysics. However, during the Cultural revolution, academics and intellectuals were widely persecuted and killed. The Little Red Book, written by Mao, was pushed by the zealous Red Guard to spur revolution against the bourgeois, old ideas, culture, and habits. Higher education was abandoned, with the youth working instead in the fields or the factories. It was a harrowing time as the Red Guard encouraged this revolutionary thought and spying on fellow neighbors for any anti revolutionary thought or activity. In a struggle with the Red Guard, Ye Wen Jie’s father died, leaving Ye Wen Jie distraught. Because she herself was an intellectual, she was regarded with high suspicion and sent to work in a logging operation. 


This is one of the few recent dramas that I have seen depicting the ruthlessness of the Cultural Revolution and paranoia that it caused amongst the populace. Even though this was still significantly sanitized for the drama to pass the censors, the show depicted the impact the Cultural Revolution had on intellectual and honestly the hypocrisy of it all as the army still needed scientists for their military operations. The drama would intersperse communist songs from the era touting the virtues of communism and why everyone needed to work hard for the collective. The Cultural Revolution shaped Ye Wen Jie as a character, which impacted the rest of the story. 


It was a different experience watching these scenes as this happened in China only 50 years ago. When those scenes of Ye Wen Jie’s history were on screen, I couldn’t help thinking of the progress China has or hasn’t made in these past 50 years. My parents and grandparents were all impacted by the Cultural revolution in their own ways and I’ve heard their stories of the era. 


The songs heard in the drama were familiar to me as I’ve heard them played on my grandparents’ old stereos when I was younger. I know that some of my family members fared better than others during the Chinese revolution. It’s rare that we see a current chinese drama have characters reminisce about the Cultural Revolution because it honestly is pretty dangerous to do so. 


The drama was filmed on location in the northeast of China in the winter and you can just see how cold it was to live in those freezing conditions with basically nothing. You contrast that to the modern day cities or at least the 2007 version we saw in the drama and it’s almost as if it’s a completely different world. As I was watching Ye Wen Jie’s story unfold, I could sympathize with her and her decisions, which made for an exciting watch as the two main characters were trying to peel the onion to her story too. 


Ultimately, I thought this drama was a great introduction for the Chinese entertainment industry to dive into sci-fi from a Chinese perspective without relying on traditional Chinese supernatural elements. The strong cast, especially of yuhewei and wang zi wen, were able to push the story forward as we learned about the truth of Three Body. I recommend fans of Sci Fi and of the original text to watch this drama especially for the Three Body game and flashbacks. Who knows, maybe we’ll finally see more sci fi coming out from China. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>