Happy 60th, Teresa

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-21 19:43:00


Paulina Rubio Photos: ICBook cover for One and Only: Teresa Teng Forever. Photo: Courtesy of Modern Press
Paulina Rubio Photos: ICBook cover for One and Only: Teresa Teng Forever. Photo: Courtesy of Modern Press


Media used to say that wherever there are Chinese, you can hear the songs of Teresa Teng. And although she never visited the Chinese mainland during her whole life, she is still a beloved superstar here.

May 8, 1995 was a heart-wrenching day for the millions of fans of Teresa Teng (1953-1995). Television stations all over Asia reported Teng's sudden death in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the result of an asthma attack. For many Chinese people, her loss was not just a sad goodbye to an idol but the end of an era.

Since then, various events focusing on Teng have been a common occurrence. Teng has over 40 official fan clubs scattered around China and members have been organizing all kinds of memorial and charity events in Teng's name over the years since the first club was founded in 2001.

On Sunday, a concert in Beijing to celebrate what would have been Teng's 60th birthday attracted a lot of A-list singers and musicians.

A book called One and Only: Teresa Teng Forever was also released over the weekend. Planned by Teng's third brother Teng Changfu who is also the director of Teresa Teng Foundation, and written by journalist Jiang Jie who spent some 10 years gathering information and doing interviews across the world, the book reviews Teng's life from the very beginning to its untimely end. 

Legendary life

The famous Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin wrote in the preface for One and Only: Teresa Teng Forever that "the degree of my admiration to her is that - I wouldn't mind if my boyfriend fell for her."

Teng's typical smile and her pleasant personality made her a sweetheart beyond time and region. However, her charm was far more than a pretty face and beautiful voice.

Teng was born in a poor family in Taiwan. At the age of 11, she won a singing competition, which started her on the path as a singer. The conflicts between her singing and academic work eventually forced her to drop out before finishing high school.

Luckily, Teng worked extremely hard and later traveled to the UK and US to study. She also went to Japan and Hong Kong to develop her career. The smart girl was quickly able to speak many languages. Not only could she perform Chinese and Cantonese songs but also English, Japanese and Indonesian songs.

Success aside, Teng's love stories were not as smooth as her career.

Teng used to date Jacky Chan, who has said in several interviews that it was the wrong timing, describing Teng as being too elegant and too much of a lady to fit into his noisy lifestyle that was full of "brothers."

Later Teng was engaged to a businessman but his family forced Teng to end her career as a singer after marriage. As an independent young lady who loves singing and valued her identity as a singer, Teng chose her career over the relationship.

Neither did Teng's last boyfriend, who was a Frenchman, enjoy a happy ending as that was when Teng passed away.

"Her life is such a legend," said Dong Shaohua, 60, who has been working on a 50-episode television script about Teng's life.  

Social significance

What made Teng more special was the time period in which she became popular.

When the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was about to finish, the main entertainment for people in the mainland was to listen to the radio. Teng's music came at that time and immediately stole many hearts.

Li Zhen, 50, from Beijing has been blind since childhood and the first time she heard Teng's song was in the neighborhood in 1978. She was so attracted by the voice that she asked her family to buy a radio for her to take to her school for the blind.

"Before Teng, it was all about revolutionary songs and sung with strong and powerful voice to cheer people up. I've never heard a voice like hers," said Li.

Dong had a similar experience. Signals for radio of overseas channels were terrible back then and the first time he could clearly listen to Teng's music from a friend's tape recording in 1976: the feeling was "extremely excited."

Unfortunately, it did not take long for Teng's songs to be banned by the officials. Teng's performance for the Kuomintang military in 1981 made the situation worse.

According to Dong, the early 1980s were an especially tough time in terms of cultural freedom. A few people were put in prison for listening to Teng's "unhealthy" and "bourgeois" music.

"The actions were from the top, but in general we never really stopped listening," siad Dong. He laughed about how people were "strong and insistent" at the time.

"We were warned to hand in all the tapes but nobody around me did," said Li.

Irreplaceable style

The discussion regarding why Teng, among the many quality singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, became such a sensation for music lovers across the mainland is still going on.

"Her soft and sweet voice was like an enlightened musical education for many people," said Jin Zhaojun, a music critic and editor-in-chief of People's Music.

Jin told the Global Times that Teng influenced all the Chinese female singers in the late 1970s and 1980s, including the famous Cheng Lin, Na Ying and Faye Wong.

Her talent was that she was capable of many different music styles, ranging from a sexy style similar to the 1930 and 1940's Shanghai club singers, the 1970s and 1980s Japanese modern Enka and the 1980s Taiwan folk song style.

Unlike Michael Jackson, whose many songs are about big topics such as world peace or human equality, the lyrics of Teng's songs are mostly about personal emotions for one's hometown or loved ones.

"Taiwan was such a faraway place for us back then but the way she sings was never far. It was just like a friend chatting with me," said Li.

Gallin Yu, director of the China Teresa Teng Fan Club, told the Global Times that in 2010, they organized a series of events for Teng's 15th anniversary and followed Teng's footprints to Hong Kong to film a music video for her song "I Only Care About You."

"We are going to produce a music video for her every year," said Yu.

After so many years, people are still talking about Teng all the time and celebrating her birthday as if she had never left.

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