Teresa Teng

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Teresa Teng
Teresa Teng la.jpg
Teng Li-yun (鄧麗筠)

(1953-01-29)29 January 1953
Died8 May 1995(1995-05-08) (aged 42)
Burial placeChin Pao San, New Taipei City, Republic of China
25°15′04″N 121°36′14″E / 25.251°N 121.604°E / 25.251; 121.604
CitizenshipRepublic of China (Taiwan)
  • Singer
  • Actress
  • TV personality
  • Philanthropist
Years active1966–1995
Partner(s)Quilery Paul Puel Stephane (1989-1995)
AwardsGolden Melody AwardsSpecial Award
1996 (awarded posthumously)

Musical career
Also known as
  • Teresa Tang
  • Teresa Deng
  • Teng Li-chun
  • Deng Lijun
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese鄧麗君
Simplified Chinese邓丽君

Teng Li-chun (traditional Chinese: 鄧麗君; simplified Chinese: 邓丽君; pinyin: Dèng Lìjūn; Jyutping: Dang6 Lai6-gwan1; 29 January 1953 – 8 May 1995), commonly known as Teresa Teng, was a Taiwanese singer, actress, musician and philanthropist. Dubbed as "Asia's eternal queen of pop", Teng became a cultural icon for her contributions to Mandopop, giving birth to the phrase, "Wherever there are Chinese people, there is the music of Teresa Teng".[1]

With a career spanning almost 30 years, Teng established herself as a dominant and influential force in Asia throughout most of her career,[2] including East Asia, Southeast Asia, and to some extent South Asia during the early and mid-80s.[3] Her profound influence on the Asian music scene and the whole of Chinese society during the last second half of the 20th century and thereafter,[4] led her to become one of the most successful and influential Asian artists in history.[5][6] She is hailed as Far East’s first cross-cultural singing star[7] and by some as the pioneer of modern popular music in China – a major force in the development of the Chinese music industry, by incorporating the western and eastern styles in her music, replacing the most revolutionary songs then prevalent in mainland China and laying the foundation for modern Chinese popular music.[8][9][4] Besides, Teng was also instrumental in bridging the cultural gap across Chinese-speaking nations, and the first artist to connect Japan to much of East and Southeast Asia, by singing Japanese pop songs, some of which were later translated to Mandarin.[10][11] In Taiwan, she was famous for entertaining the armed forces and singing patriotic songs that appeals to natives of the island. She was nicknamed as a “patriotic entertainer” and a “soldiers’ sweetheart”.[12]

Throughout her years, Teng rendered hits such as "When Will You Return?", "As Sweet as Honey", "Small Town Story", "Giving Yourself to the Flow of Time," and "The Moon Represents My Heart".[13] She recorded more than 1,500 songs throughout her career, starting when she was 14 years old, not only in Mandarin Chinese but also in Hokkien, Cantonese, Japanese, Indonesian, English and Italian. In addition to speaking the most of the languages she sung in, she also spoke French[14] and Thai. To date, her songs have been covered by hundreds of artists all over the world.[15] In 2007, she was inducted in "Popular Music Hall of Fame" at Koga Masao Music Museum in Japan, making her the only non-Japanese national to do so.[16]

According to a report published by Billboard in May 1995, Teng released 25 albums during the last 26 years of her career and sold over 22 million copies, going by her original sales.[17] On May 8, 1995, Teng died from a severe respiratory attack while on vacation in Thailand at the age of 42. In 1986, Time magazine named her one of the seven greatest female singers in the world[18] and one of the ten most favorite female singers in the world, becoming the only Asian to be listed twice.[19][20] In 2010, she was voted "New China's Most Influential Woman", "The Most Famous Woman" and "My Favorite Woman" by numerous critics.[21]The same year CNN listed her in the 20 most influential musicians of the past 50 years.[1][22] She is regarded as a national treasure and a cultural symbol of Chinese-speaking communities worldwide.[23][24]

Early life[edit]

Teng performs at her first musical performance at the age of 7 (1960).

Teng was born to a poor family in Baozhong Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan on 29 January 1953, to Waishengren parents. Her father was a soldier in the Republic of China Armed Forces from Daming, Hebei, and her mother was from Dongping, Shandong. The only daughter in the family, with three older brothers and a younger brother, she was educated at Luzhou Elementary School in Luzhou District, Taipei County and then Ginling Girls High School (私立金陵女中) in Sanchong Township, Taipei County, Taiwan.[25]

Teng's talent for music was discovered at age three. According to her brother, their father's friend, an erhu (Chinese two-stringed violin) player, often visited and complimented Teresa's clear, soft, yet powerful voice. This family friend became Teng's first voice teacher and was instrumental in fostering a passion for music in the girl. Teng's perfect pitch and her amiable demeanor won the hearts of judges in various singing competitions.[26] Her first major prize was in 1964 when she sang "Visiting Yingtai" from Shaw Brothers' Huangmei opera movie, The Love Eterne, at an event hosted by Broadcasting Corporation of China.[27] She was soon able to support her family with her singing. With her father's approval, she quit school to pursue singing professionally.[28]


Teng after winning the All-Taiwan Huangmei Tuning Singing Competition (1964)

Teng's career commenced in 1967 as a host of the television show One Star a Day and then appeared in television dramas. She played a leading role in the 1967 film Thank You, Boss.[29] She recorded a theme song for Jingjing, Taiwan's first televised serial and did a promotional concert tour that caught quite an attention on the media.[30] Her first taste of fame came in 1968 when performance on a popular Taiwanese music program led to a record contract. She released several albums within the next few years under the Life Records label of Hong Kong.[31] Soon her earnings from performing and recording afforded her family to a comfortable life; they moved from Luzhou District to Beitou District, Taipei where they bought a home.[30] As Teng became famous, her parents faced criticism from the outside world, believing that they are more concerned about the financial situation of the family than their daughter's future. Faced with these doubts, Teng responded: "It is not the adults who want me to sing, but I want to sing. I love singing, so I sing for myself".[30] In 1973 she attempted to crack the Japanese market by signing with the Polydor Japan label.[32] Following her success in Japan, Teng recorded several Japanese songs, including original hits such as "Give yourself to the flow of Time" (時の流れに身をまかせ, Toki no Nagare ni Mi wo Makase) which was later covered in Mandarin as "I Only Care About You".[10]

In 1974 the song "Airport" (空港, Kūkō), which was covered in Mandarin as "Lover's Care" (情人的關懷) in 1976, became a hit in Japan. Teng's popularity there continued despite being briefly barred from the country in 1979 for having a fake Indonesian passport she purchased for US$20,000. The subterfuge had seemed necessary due to the official break in relations between Republic of China and Japan that occurred shortly after the People's Republic of China replaced the ROC in the United Nations.[33]

Teresa Teng performing at a concert (1969)

Her popularity boomed in the 1970s after her success in Japan. By now singing in multiple languages, Teng expanded her popularity to the rest of Asia.[1] In Taiwan, she was known not only known as the island's most popular export but as "the soldier's sweetheart" because of her frequent performances for servicemen. Teng was herself the child of a military family.[34] Her concerts for troops featured Taiwanese folk songs that appealed to natives of the island as well as Chinese folk songs that appealed to homesick refugees of the civil war. Teng gave many free concerts throughout most of her career to help the less fortunate or to help raise funds for charities. The funds collected from her concerts were donated to public welfare.[35] In April 1979, she held her first concert in Vancouver, Canada.[20]

In the early 1980s, continuing political tension between mainland China and Taiwan led to her music, along with that of other singers from Taiwan and Hong Kong, being banned for some years in mainland China describing it as too "bourgeois" and "corrupt" by Chinese authorities. In spite of the ban, Teng's songs continued to be played everywhere, from nightclubs to government buildings and the ban was soon lifted.[36] Teng became almost as well known in mainland China as the country's leader. Her fans nicknamed her "Little Deng" because she had the same family name as Deng Xiaoping; there was a saying that, by day, everyone listened to “old Deng” because they had to. At night, everyone listened to “little Teng” because they wanted to.[37] Shanghai Party Newspaper, "Wen Hui Bao" commented on fearing that her songs may erode the revolutionary spirit of the (Communist) Chinese.[38] During this period, Teng reached the zenith of her career and held large-scale concerts in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia almost every year.[39] In 1983, she was invited to perform at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas which was a huge success.[20]

Teng's contract with Polydor ended in 1981, and she signed a contract with Taurus Records in 1983 and made a successful comeback appearance in Japan. In 1983, Teng released her most critically acclaimed album, Dandan youqing, translated as Light Exquisite Feeling which sets 12 poems from the Tang and Song dynasties into music, blending modern and traditional styles. It became Teng's first album to include entirely new songs, without any covers. The most popular single from the album is "Wishing We Last Forever".[39] Teng apparently felt a deep attachment to the mainland, as she immersed herself in the classics of Tang and Song periods.[40] In the television special, she spoke of her desire to contribute in the transmission of "Chinese" culture. Dressed in her period clothing, she commented:

I have one small wish. I hope everyone will like these songs so that the flourishing begonias within China's 10 million square kilometers and the treasures of this 5000-year old culture can be handed down generation through song. And through this, I hope our posterity will never forget the happiness, sadness, and glory of being a "Chinese" person.[41]

The album has received an extremely good response from both the public and critics commending her outstanding interpretation of the ancient poems and successfully project classical Chinese literature into a contemporary popular music style.[42]Japanese music critic Hiroshi Shinozaki cited the album a "masterpiece" while critic Yang Yanxing described it as "a finest work of the Chinese music circle".[21] In March 2012, Pu Xiqian from the China News Service called the album a "perfect combination of poems and music".[43]

In 1987, Teng released the album I Only Care About You. After that, she basically stopped participating in commercial activities and gradually entered a semi-retired state.[44]

Teng performed in Paris during the 1989 Tiananmen student protests on behalf of the students and expressed her support. On 27 May 1989, over 300,000 people attended the Concert for Democracy in China (民主歌聲獻中華) at the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong. One of the highlights was her rendition of "My Home Is on the Other Side of the Mountain".[45]

Though Teng performed in many countries around the world, she never performed in mainland China. During her 1980 TTV concert, when asked about such possibility, she responded by stating that the day she performs on the mainland will be the day the Three Principles of the People are implemented there – in reference to either the pursuit of Chinese democracy or reunification under the banner of the ROC.[46]

Success in Hong Kong[edit]

Teresa Teng playing drums in Hong Kong (August 1970)

In 1975, Teng collaborated with Polygram Records of Hong Kong. Her album Island Love Songs: Goodbye My Love (1975) won her the Ten-Star Prize and the opportunity to feature in a movie musical of her own. The album was awarded platinum at Hong Kong's first Golden Album Awards. In 1976, Teng held her first Hong Kong concert at Lee Theatre, which was a tremendous success. She continued performing in concerts for the next 5 years attracting big crowds throughout this time. In 1978, her two album Teresa Teng's Greatest Hits and Love Songs of the Island 3 won her second Golden Album Award. She released her first Cantonese album Antagonist in 1980 which became the best-seller of the year; it's single Forget Him became one of the most famous Cantonese pop songs at that time.[20] The album received platinum at Golden Album Awards. In 1982, her dual-album of Teresa Teng's Concert Live became another platinum after hitting the market. She became household name in Hong Kong and held a concert at Queen Elizabeth Stadium the same year. Her second album The Long Journey of Life, released in 1983 achieved even bigger success than her predecessor. It became her fifth consecutive album to be awarded platinum, a record-breaking win against all singers in Hong Kong and held a concert tour in Hong Kong Coliseum in 1983. Her monumental concert rightly named A Billion Applause concert, was performed in both Taiwan and Hong Kong in 1984, in honor of her 15th year as a performer. One year later, she was awarded a special medal by PolyGram Hong Kong, as a tribute to her success of having sold more than 5 million copies in Hong Kong.[20]

Career in Japan (1973–1987)[edit]

Teng in the United States, after temporarily being banned from Japan due to passport controversy (1979)

Teng entered the Japanese market in 1973. On March 1, 1974, Teng released her first Japanese single 'No Matter Tonight or Tomorrow,' which marked the beginning of her career in Japan. The single initially received a lukewarm market response and was ranked 75th on the Oricon Chart with sales of approximately 30,000. The Watanabe firm considered giving up using her name.[20] However, considering her success in Asia, the record company decided to release two or three consecutive singles to test the market further. On July 1, 1974, Teng’s second single Airport was released. The sales of 'Airport' were huge, totaling 700,000 copies. Teresa then released a number of successful singles including The Night Ferry and Goodbye, My Love both of which she also covered in Mandarin. In 1979, she was caught with a fake Indonesian passport while entering Japan and was deported and banned from entering the country for one year.[20]: 204–214 

After a long absence, Teresa returned to the Japanese market on September 21, 1983, and released her first single "Tsugunai" (Atonement) after her comeback on 21 January 1984.[20] The single didn't receive good response initially; however, after a month, sales started to pick up, and seven months later, 'Atonement' eventually ranked 8th on the Oricon Chart and 1st on Japan Cable Broadcasting Chart. By the end of the year, sales surpassed 700,000 copies and final sales reached a million copies. Teng won the top award of 'Singer of the year' from Japan Cable Award. "Tsugunai" won the most popular song category and stayed on the Oricon Chart for nearly a year.[20] The success broke all the sales records of her previous period (1974–1979). On February 21, 1985, her next single, "Aijin" (Lover) topped the Oricon Chart and Japan cable broadcasting request chart in the first week of its release. The song remained #1 for fourteen consecutive weeks and sales broke the 1.5 million mark. With "Aijin" Teresa won the 'Singer of the year' for the second time. Moreover, she was invited to perform in Kouhaku Uta Gassen, which represented the highest honor in the Japanese music world. Her next single Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase was released on 21 February 1986.[20] The single topped both the Oricon and Japan Cable Broadcasting Chart and sales of the single reached 2.5 million in Asian market becoming one of the most popular singles in Japan that year. She won the Japan Cable Award for the third time in a row. Teng was invited to perform in Kouhaku Uta Gassen for the second time. She became the first-ever artist to achieve three consecutive wins of this "Grand Prix", also known as Japan Cable Award. Teng also remains the only foreign singer to win this award for three consecutive years in the history of Japanese music (1984–1986).[20]: 216–218  Teng gave her last solo concert at the NHK Hall in Tokyo in 1985 before semi-retiring from entertainment circle.[47]

Philanthropic causes[edit]

Teresa Teng sang at a charity fair held in Zhongzheng Hall in Taipei, for the relief of the earthquake in the Philippines (Aug 17, 1968)

Teng began charity performances at a very young age. One of her first performances came on August 17, 1968, when she sang at the charity fair in Zhongshan Hall in Taipei, for the relief of the earthquake in the Philippines. The charity sale was donated on the spot. She was invited next year by the wife of the then-President of Singapore Yusof Ishak to a charity performance at the Singapore national opera house. In the same year, she even achieved the honor of performing at the Ten-Star Charity Performance, held by the Singaporean authorities. In 1971, she became the youngest person ever to be awarded the title of the “Charity Queen” of Hong Kong’s Bai Hua You Arts Auction for making charity sales.[48] On June 8, 1973, she participated in the "Far East Top Ten Stars Charity Gala" in Singapore, performed 4 performances, and raised $400,000 to be used as scholarships for poor students. Teng continued performing for philanthropic causes throughout the 1970s in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In 1980, she raised over US$1 million for Yan Chai Hospital in Hong Kong and donated the proceeds of her show in Taiwan to that country's national trust fund.[38] In January 1982, Teng held a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, and the first proceeds were used for charitable donations; in August, she donated NT$160,000 to build a water tower in a Village in northern Thailand and introduce a drinking water system. In 1985, Teng held a solo concert at the NHK Hall in Tokyo, Japan, proceeds of which were donated to charity. She made a special trip to Hong Kong in July 1991 to participate in the disaster relief program of ATV's "Love for East China" as a special charity performance guest to raise funds. Teng gave her last performance in 1994 in Taiwan, one year before her unexpected passing away.[48]

Death and commemorations[edit]

Tomb of Teresa Teng

Teng died from severe asthma,[13] though doctors and her partner Paul Quilery had speculated that she died from a heart attack due to a side effect of an overdose of unspecified amphetamines while on holiday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the age of 42 on 8 May 1995. Quilery was buying groceries when the attack occurred. He was aware that Teng relied on the same medication for minor attacks in the two months before her death.[13] Teng had asthma throughout her adult life.[49]

Statue of Teresa Teng in Jinshan District, New Taipei

Teng's death produced unified sense of loss throughout all of Asia.[17] Her funeral in Taiwan became the largest scale state-sponsored funeral in country's history, second to only ROC leader Chiang Kai-shek. Over 200,000 people lined up outside the funeral home, waiting for the singer to make the last farewell.[21] Her funeral was broadcast on television stations across many Asian countries.[17] Teng was given state honors at her funeral with Taiwan's flag draped around her coffin. Hundreds of high-ranking officials and dignitaries, including commanders from three branches of the military attended the funeral who carried her coffin to her grave. A day of national mourning were declared and president Lee Teng-hui was among the thousands in attendance.[50] Teng was posthumously awarded the Ministry of Defense's highest honor for civilians, the KMT's "Hua-hsia Grade One Medal", the Overseas Chinese Affairs' Commission's "Hua Guang Grade one Medal," and the president's commendation.[51] She was buried in a mountainside tomb at Chin Pao San, a cemetery in Jinshan, New Taipei City (then Taipei County) overlooking the north coast of Taiwan.[52]

According to her real name, the cemetery was named "Yun Yuan". The gravesite features a Teng's golden life-size statue and a large electronic piano keyboard set in the ground that can be played by visitors who step on the keys. On the tombstone, the head of Teresa Teng is carved. The coffin lid behind the tombstone is polished with black marble. Behind the coffin lid is a stone sculpture. The upper half is a lying portrait of the singer, and the right side of the lower half is inlaid with a color photo of her, with the words "Deng Lijun, 1953-1995" written on the left side. On the right side of the coffin lid, there is a huge stone with the words "Yunyuan" inscribed by James Soong, chairman of the People First Party. On the left side of the coffin lid, there is a stone stele on which is engraved with the epitaph - "Here lies a superstar who dedicated her life to singing".[21] The memorial is often visited by her fans.[53]

In May 1995, Shanghai Radio host Dalù dedicated the Sunday morning broadcast to the Taiwanese singer, who died a few days earlier. Spreading her songs was banned in mainland China and the journalist was formally warned for this act.[54]

In 1995, a tribute album A Tribute to Teresa Teng was released, which contained covers of Teng's songs by prominent Chinese rock bands.[55]

In May 2002, a wax figure of Teng was unveiled at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong.A house she bought in 1986 in Hong Kong at No. 18 Carmel Street, Stanley also became a popular fan site soon after her death. Plans to sell the home to finance a museum in Shanghai were made known in 2002,[56] and it subsequently sold for HK$32 million. It closed on what would have been her 51st birthday on 29 January 2004.[57]

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of her death, the Teresa Teng Culture and Education Foundation launched a campaign entitled "Feel Teresa Teng". In addition to organizing an anniversary concert in Hong Kong and Taiwan, fans paid homage at her shrine at Chin Pao San Cemetery. Additionally, some of her dresses, jewelry and personal items were placed on exhibition at Yuzi Paradise, an art park outside Guilin, China. The foundation also served as her wishes to set up a school or educational institute.

In April 2015, a set of four stamps featuring Teng were released by the Chunghwa Post.[58]

Personal life[edit]

Teresa Teng with her mother in Los Angeles

In 1971, Teresa met her first boyfriend, Lin Zhenfa, a Malaysian paper tycoon. Lin liked Teng's music very much, often accompanying her to snack at night and write poems for her. Within a few years, they fell in love. In 1976, Lin died of a heart attack. Later Teresa recorded the song "Goodbye, My Love," dedicated to her boyfriend who had just died.[59]

In 1980, while auditing classes at UCLA after her deportation from Japan, Teng met Jackie Chan, who was filming in Hollywood; however, due to their personality differences, they parted ways but remained friends.[60]

In 1981, Teng met Beau Kuok, a Malaysian businessman and son of multi-billionaire Robert Kuok. They were engaged in 1982, but Teng called off the engagement due to prenuptial agreements which stipulated that she had to quit and sever all ties with the entertainment industry, as well as fully disclose her biography and all her past relationships in writing. Teresa was still willing to accept the second and third conditions, only to keep the chance to release her own records. However, the Guo family declined her request, and the marriage was canceled.[61]

In 1990, Teng met French photographer Paul Quilery in France. They dated 5 years and got engaged a month before Teng's passing away in May 1995.[62]



Teng received the following awards in Japan:[63]

  • The New Singer Award for "Kūkō" (空港) in 1974.
  • The Gold Award in 1986 for "Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase" (時の流れに身をまかせ).
  • The Grand Prix for "Tsugunai" (つぐない) in 1984: "Aijin" (愛人) in 1985; and "Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase" (時の流れに身をまかせ) in 1986. This was the first time anyone had won the Grand Prix three years in a row. Teng's fourth Grand Prix for "Walare no Yokan" in 1988 was only for the All Japan Wired Cable Awards' year first-half award show (上半期)
  • The Outstanding Star Award for "Wakare no Yokan" (別れの予感) in 1987.
  • The Cable Radio Music Award for "Wakare no Yokan" in 1987 and 1988.
  • The Cable Radio Special Merit Award (有線功労賞) in 1995 for three consecutive Grand Prix wins.


She left suddenly, and I was so frustrated that I always felt that the friendship between us shouldn’t end like this. Over the years, she often appeared in my dreams. Here, she is the same as the real woman—a mysterious woman. The amazing thing is that in the dream, the world thinks she has gone to heaven, but I know that she is still in the world.

Brigitte Lin

In the course of her 30 years career and until now, Teng is widely acknowledged as one of the most successful and influential figures in the history of Asian music and popular culture, considering her deep impact in the whole of Chinese society where her influence goes far beyond the music circle, to include both political and cultural spheres; while her Asia-wide reach is often said to be driven by the multi-lingual abilities that made her an icon in all of Asia helping usher to the era of region-wide pop superstardom that became today's norm.[64][65][5][66]

Cultural impact[edit]

Teresa Teng in Los Angeles (1980)

Widely accepted as Asia's singing queen,[67] Teng enjoyed the repertoire of being one of the biggest singers in the world during her heyday of the 1970s and 1980s.[68][69] She is credited by some as the enlightener and a pioneer of Chinese vocal performance art and modern popular music.[8][4] Her profound influence on the Asian music scene and the Chinese cultural sphere during the second half of the 20th century led her to be recognized as the Far East's first International singing star[7] whose music swept to all of Asia, having a lasting effect on Asian diaspora and beyond.[40]

Teresa Teng bronze statue near Luzhou station, Taipei, Taiwan

Until the late 1970s, for three decades foreign music and art were not allowed into mainland China, and love songs were virtually unknown with the exception of only political and red songs which heavily dominated the cultural sphere of mainland China. Music critic Jin Zhaojun described the music during the revolutionary period as “overly masculine and lacking in femininity”.[70] Teng works on different styles of music which blends Chinese elements with western-style pop and jazzy tunes, offered an alternative to the-then prevalent Chinese songs which depended heavily on older instruments used in Chinese music. This inspired the music creations of later generations.[4][71] Musicians rushed into learning the new form of music that entered the mainland through foreign cassettes and tape recorders. Teng had a dominant and decentralizing effect in this context. The music styles Teng brought to the mainland had a huge influence on many Chinese singers and musicians initially and after. She became earliest guide for composers on how to arrange music for popular songs. Jin explains: “Many composers learned popular music arrangement from what they heard in her songs. As Chinese and western elements were well mixed together, it easily resonated with the republic youth. Many of them reproduce their work imitating her”. Teng’s songs were focused on wide range of issues, most primarily on love and longing for one’s hometown, the most lacking elements in mainland culture at the time.[70][4] By early 1970s, as rates of radio ownership, especially of cheap and portable transistor models begun to increase, listening to Teng's music became the primary attraction. A man in Beijing on the interview with Andrew F. Jones, Professor of Chinese at University of California, Berkeley recalled his past of hearing her music for the first time in 1975 as a sort of excitement and extreme addiction that he and his friends would press their ears to the wooden frame of a shortwave radio only to get her voice heard.[72]

Chinese writer Ah Cheng account of his internal exile in the mountains of Yunnan is better representative of this phenomenon:

Yunnan was endowed with a magnificent geographical gift: you could hardly hear central people's radio, and the newspaper would take days to make its way into the mountains and then be collected at the party's secretary's house, where you could ask him to tear off a strip when you wanted to roll up a cigarette. For people who listen to enemy radio, radio from the center or the official newspaper was merely a supplemental reference. But listening to enemy radio was not about political news so much as entertainment. I remember that whenever the Australian national station broadcast a radio play of the Taiwanese film The Story of a Small Town everyone would bring their own radio because the shortwave signal would tend to drift and that way we could cover the entire frequency range and make sure we had continuous sound from at least one receiver at a time. The boys and girls sitting around that grass hut would be in tears! Especially when Teresa Teng's voice rang out, emotions would rise to a fever pitch – her voice was to die for.[72]

However, Teng wasn't a household name in China until 1977, when Teng's popular love song "The Moon Represents My Heart" was released; it became one of the first foreign songs to break into the country. Teng's songs over the following decade further revolutionized Chinese music scene and culture that marked the end of extremely tight control exercised in preceding 3 decades by communist party over Chinese society and culture.[73][70]

Teng watching a football game in United States

Teng's music and her appearance left a huge impact on the entirety of Chinese society and culture changing the social thinking and way of life of the people. Through her songs, she connected her listeners that suffered from extreme materialistic and spiritual droughts during the aftermath of the cultural revolution to an era of modernity and openness. Furthermore, she became a cross-cultural ambassador connecting Taiwan to its mainland and by the early‘80s, foreign music and other forms of cultural arts flushed over China. In addition, it brought about China’s own popular music. Cultural art forms such as music, film, and literature that were subject of political control, and often looked down upon, became ideals for the masses. She also had a considerable influence on fashion. Dirty braids, cheongsam, and leather suits were part of her advanced stage styles setting the trend among women at the time.[4][74][44]

A democracy activist Wu'erkaixi who is now living under political refuge in Taiwan indicated that the youngsters who listened to her songs discovered the desire for the pursuit of freedom through her singing voice. Therefore, when Deng Lijun was gone, it wasn't just the loss of a singer but also the end of an era for better living space and political freedom brought by her.[74] He further adds: "To the Chinese, Deng Lijun was a great person. If Deng Xiao-ping brought economic freedom to China, she brought liberation of the body and free thinking to China. We now can see the rise of China. However, Chinese don't enjoy full freedom but its now clear and understandable that the liberation of body and spirit is more valuable than economic freedom".[74]

Pan Zhichang, a professor at the School of Liberal Arts of Nanjing University said: “She has given real meaning to people’s lives and taught us how to express ourselves”.[44] Critic Li Jianjun pointed that she influenced the direction of culture through the way she expresses her songs.[44] A literary critic Cai Xiang, in an essay on the Chinese 1970s, states: "Against the prohibitions of an "overly rigid, even prohibitive" system, Teng's music provided a "transgressive thrill" by opening a window to a curious new world beyond socialist normativity. All it took was one Teresa Teng to bring 'The East Is Red' to an end".[72] Director of CCTV Jiading: "Teng Lijun is a milestone and an enlightened figure in music, whose appearance has made everyone aware of popular music. No one can surpass her status and influence. She has way more influence than popular songs or the pop stars on society. She used her music to even change the social thinking, our way of life and attitude towards life. She has completely changed us".[44][75] Hollywood star, Jackie Chan called her "a last classic and someone with noble characteristics". Music critic Jin Zhaojun said: "Teng not only pioneered the development of popular music, but also stimulated the development of the audio-visual economy at that time. Listening to tapes was one of the main cultural consumptions content. They were luxury goods, but this did not stop ordinary people from consuming it. In 1979, there were only a few audio-visual distribution companies in the Mainland. By 1982, it increased to 300. Deng Lijun's music was revolutionary in making this happen".[76] Li Dun, Chairman of the Beijing Oriental Songlei Musical Company recall the influence of Teng’s music on him: “I was sensible, I felt that China was a cold place and human emotions could not be expressed freely. It was not until Teng’s singing became widely popular in mainland that people came to know that there was another way of expressing emotions. She is my enlightenment teacher”.[77]

Miss Teng performing at concert in Lincoln Center, NY (1980)

Teng enjoyed overwhelming popularity in Japan and Southeast Asia throughout most of her career, and to some extent South Asia during the early and mid '80s,[3] achieving a "cult status" in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Japan, where she became a "barometer of cross-strait relations," in rising geopolitical tensions at the time,[78] and one of the first artists to break through language barrier and gain acceptance and accolades among various cultures. This paved the way for other Asian musicians and opened the door for artists in Asia to international success that were previously confined to national boundary.[79][64] Her songs have been covered by several hundreds of singers all over the world; among them few notable ones are Faye Wong, Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung, Jon Bon Jovi, Siti Nurhaliza, Shila Amzah, Katherine Jenkins, Im Yoon-ah, David Archuleta, Agnez Mo, Korean girl group f(x) (group), English vocal group Libera (choir), Jewish singer Noa (singer), Grammy award-winning American musician Kenny G, legendary Kiwi pianist Carl Doy, Cuba's leading a cappella musical band Vocal Sampling, and among others. Her songs are also featured in various International films, such as Rush Hour 2, The Game, Prison On Fire, Year of the Dragon, Formosa Betrayed, Gomorrah, and Crazy Rich Asians. In 1980, Teng became the first singer of Chinese descent to perform at the Lincoln Centre in New York City and the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1983, two of the reputed venues in US.[39]

In 1974, Teng entered the Japanese market, two years after Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. She was extremely popular in Japan throughout the 1970s and 1980s, having lived off her royalties in the country after semi-retiring in the late '80s. During this tenure, Teng recorded and performed Japanese pop songs, often termed as Kayokyoku by Japanese media, and helped connect Japan to much of East Asia, particularly Taiwan, China, and some of Southeast Asia, helping bridge the gap between them, some of which were later translated in Mandarin, as reported by Nippon[10] and Billboard.[17]

Hirano Kumiko, an author at Nippon writes:[10]

For Japanese, Teresa Teng was more than just a popular singer. By performing kayōkyoku, she connected Japan to its Asian neighbors. She taught us about the profundity of Chinese culture, whether in her birthplace of Taiwan, her ancestral home of China, or Hong Kong, which she loved throughout her life. We, her Japanese fans, will never forget her velvety voice and the brief, beautiful radiance of her life.

In 2007, she was inducted in "Popular Music Hall of Fame" at Koga Masao Music Museum in Japan, making her the only non-Japanese national to do so.[16]

A quarter of a century after her passing, Teng remains an "iconic figure" in the popular culture of Asia.[80][81] In 1995, American Billboard magazine described her "Asian pop's favorite star".[17] Former chairman of Japanese recording company, Minoru Funaki said that "Teng is the last great superstar of the 20th century, there won't be another diva like her again”.[82] In 2018, The Guardian article quoted on her describing her influence in Asia as that of Elvis in west.[83] Research analyst John Franklin Cooper wrote that "Teng bridged the gap between eastern and western music by introducing western pop music to the Chinese audience as no one transcended the barriers before her. A huge hit across Asia and to some was the most heard singer in the world".[3] Andrew N. Weintraub and Bart Barendregt described Teng as "a model of inter-Asian modernity whose voice crossed linguistic, national and generational borders".[79]

Status & Honors[edit]

Teresa at Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong (1970)

Considered a "brilliant linguist" by The New York Times,[13] Teng has been named one of the world's seven greatest female singers[84] and one of the ten most favorite female singers in the world by Time magazine in 1986, becoming the only Asian to be listed twice.[19][20] In a national survey by NHK in 1997, her song Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase was voted sixteenth among the 100 greatest Japanese songs of all time[85] and The Moon Represents My Heart stood first in the 10 best Chinese songs of all time in a poll by Radio Hong Kong in 1999.[86] In 2009, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, a government web portal conducted an online poll to choose "The Most Influential Cultural figure in China since 1949". Over 24 million people voted and Teng came out as a winner with 8.5 million votes.[1] On the eve of the "March 8th International Women's Day" in 2010, she was voted "New China's Most Influential Woman", "The Most Famous Woman" and "My Favorite Woman" by numerous critics.[21] The same year CNN listed her in the 20 most influential music artists of the past 50 years.[1][87]

The 1996 Hong Kong film Comrades: Almost a Love Story, directed by Peter Chan, features the tragedy and legacy of Teng in a subplot to the main story. The movie won best picture in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and at the Seattle Film Festival in the United States. In 2007, TV Asahi produced a TV movie entitled Teresa Teng Monogatari (テレサ・テン物語)[88] to commemorate the 13th anniversary of her death. Actress Yoshino Kimura starred as Teng.[89]

In 2003, Teng's burial mound and commemorative statue was erected in Fushou Garden, Qingpu District, Shanghai.[90]

On January 29, 2009, Hong Kong's first Teresa Teng-themed coffee shop was opened by the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. The coffee shop hires ex-mentally ill people as waiters, providing employment and job training opportunities. The food and beverages sold in the coffee shop are based on the theme of health to match Teng's desire to pursue a healthy life.[91]

In 2011, her song The Moon Represents My Heart was chosen by Republic of China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.[92]

In 2016, The Daming County government in Handan City of southern Hebei province, China spent 800 million yuan (approximately US$110 million) to build the "Lijun Town" dedicated to her. It not only repaired the Deng's ancestral home, but also built Lijun Cultural Square, Performing Arts Square, coffee shops, bars and other facilities. Teresa’s singing can be heard in every corner of the town.[93][94] The city also features "Teresa Teng Hanging Garden" and "Teresa Teng Art Center" including a white marble statue of Teng located in Universal Melody City, Handan City. This place is a viewing platform and has a Teresa Teng Museum. Visitors can enjoy Teng's music through artificial intelligence technology.[95][96]

In 2013, a 3D virtual hologram was created where Chou sang three songs with Teng. She also appeared on a Japanese TV show with 3D VR technology in 2017.[97]

On 29 January 2018, a Google Doodle was released across Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Canada and Iceland to honor the singer's 65th birth anniversary.[98][99]


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External links[edit]