Teresa Teng

Teresa Teng (January 29, 1953May 8, 1995) sometimes spelled as Teresa Tang or Teresa Deng, was a popular and influential Chinese pop singer. She was vastly popular among all Chinese-speaking countries, along with Japan. Teresa Teng was known for her folk songs and romantic ballads.

She recorded many memorable songs, including "When Will You Return?" (). In addition to her Mandarin repertoire, she also recorded songs in Taiwanese, Cantonese, Japanese, Indonesian, and English.


Teresa Teng was born in a village in Yunlin County, Taiwan, to a mainland Chinese family originating from Hebei province. She was educated at Ginling Girls' High School.

As a young child, Teresa won many awards for her singing at talent competitions. Her first major award was in 1964 when she sang "Visiting Yingtai" from Shaw Brothers' Huangmei opera movie, "The Love Eterne" (梁山伯与祝英台), at an event hosted by China Radio Station (Taiwan). Her singing proved successful and helped her family through the tough times of Taiwan's developing economy in the 1960s. With the support of her father, Teresa quit high school to pursue singing professionally.

She rose to fame in 1968 after giving a performance on a popular music program in Taiwan. She released several albums within the next few years under the Life Records label. In 1973, she attempted to crack the Japanese market by signing with Polydor Japan records label, and taking part in Japan's Kōhaku Uta Gassen, a year-round singing match of the most successful artists of that year. She won the prize for "Best New Singing Star".

Following her success in Japan, Teresa sang many Japanese songs, including her own originals such as "I Only Care About You" (時の流れに身をまかせ or 我只在乎你), as well as some in tribute to original artists from the Southern All Stars. Many of these Japanese songs were re-written with Chinese lyrics.

In 1974, with the song "Airport" (空港), she conquered Japan, where she remained a leading star despite a short exile in 1979 when she was deported for having entered on a fake Indonesian passport, bought for $20,000, a subterfuge rendered necessary by a break in relations between Taiwan and Japan on China's entry to the UN Security Council. Singing by now in Cantonese, Japanese and English as well as her native Mandarin, Teresa's popularity reached as far as Malaysia and Indonesia.

In 1983, she released her most-acclaimed album Light Exquisite Feeling (淡淡幽情). This album comprised 12 poems from both the Tang and Song dynasties, set to a blend of modern Western and traditional Chinese music written by various composers, several of whom were involved in many of Teresa's previous albums. The most famous song from the album is "Wishing We Last Forever" (但願人長久), which was later covered by Faye Wong. Faye, a big fan, released Decadent Sounds of Faye (菲靡靡之音) in 1995, a cover album of songs recorded by Teresa.

Because of tension between Taiwan and China, her music as well as others from Hong Kong were banned for several years in Mainland China in the early 1980s for being too "bourgeois and reactionary ideology. However, this did not stop her immense popularity in China. Her songs had made their way into every home, village and bar in China through the black market. Soon after, the ban on her music was lifted.

Since she had the same family name that Deng Xiaoping had, some people nicknamed her "Little Deng.

Even though she had hoped to hold a concert in Tiananmen Square and was even publicly invited by the Chinese government, she would never have the opportunity to perform in China. She performed in Paris during the 1989 Tiananmen student uprising, singing for the students and proclaiming her support for them and for democracy. On May 27th, 1989, over 300,000 people gathered at the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong for a gathering called "Democratic songs dedicated for China" (民主歌聲獻中華), where she performed the song "My home is on the other side of the mountain.

In Taiwan during the 70's and 80's, Teresa was also known as the 'soldier's sweetheart" because she periodically performed for the troops (she was a child of a military family). Her songs were especially noted for giving mainlanders (or nationalists) a sense of longing for their homes in China.

Her songs unified and touched the heart of the Chinese people throughout the world. Yeh Yueh-Yu, a professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Southern California said, "It was the sweetness in her voice that made her famous. She had a perfect voice for folk songs and ballads, and she added traditional folk song stylings into Western-style compositions." Her voice was also described as being "like weeping and pleading, but with strength, capable of drawing in and hypnotizing listeners." Songwriter Tsuo Hung-yun said Teng's voice voice was "seven parts sweetness, three parts tears." Her singing was heartfelt and genuine.

Death and commemorations

Teng died from a severe asthma attack while on holiday with her French boyfriend in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the age of 42 (43 by Chinese reckoning) on May 8, 1995. She was an asthmatic throughout her adult life. Teng was given a state funeral in Taiwan, with the Republic of China flag draped over her coffin and the former president Lee Teng-hui in attendance among thousands in mourning.

She was buried in a mountainside tomb at Chin Pao San (金寶山; Jinbaoshan, literally Golden Treasure Mountain), a cemetery near Jinshan, Taipei County in Taiwan. A memorial was built at the tomb with a statue of Teng and her stage clothes on display, with her music playing in the background. There is also a large electronic piano keyboard that visitors can play by stepping on the keys. The tomb is well visited by her fans, a notable departure from traditional Chinese culture shunning visits to burial sites.

A house she bought in 1986 in Hong Kong at No. 18 Carmel Street has also become a site of pilgrimage for her fans soon after her death. Plans to sell the home to finance a museum in Shanghai were made known in 2002, and subsequently sold for HK 32 million. It closed on what would have been her 51st birthday on January 29, 2004.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of her death, 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, music 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.

In May 2002, the wax figure of Teng was unveiled at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong.

Influence on popular culture

  • Her songs were so popular in China that they bypassed mainland censorship, and it was said that "by day, Deng Xiaoping rules China, but by night, Deng Lijun rules."
  • Teng's songs have been sung by other singers, most notably Faye Wong who released a tribute album (Decadent Sounds of Faye) consisting entirely of cover songs originally sung by Teresa Teng. Timi Zhuo is also known for singing her songs, and has been called her "second generation" because they both share the same soft voice and a similar singing style.
  • In the 1996 Hong Kong film Comrades: Almost a Love Story (甜蜜蜜 - Tiánmìmì), directed by Peter Chan, the life and death of Teresa Teng is featured as a subplot to the main story.
  • Her songs are played in various films, e.g. Rush Hour 2, Prison On Fire.
  • In 2007, TV Asahi produced a tanpatsu (単発, TV movie), entitled Teresa Teng Monogatari (テレサ・テン物語) to commemorate the 13th anniversary of her death. Actress Yoshino Kimura starred as Teresa Teng
  • Because she came from a military family, Teresa became known as the "soldier's sweetheart" in Taiwan.

Some of her most popular songs

  • "When Will You Return?" This theme song was also unofficially used in Meteor Garden where Shan Tsai's mother (Tsukushi) sings the first few stanzas. This song was originally sung by the Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan.
  • "Endless Love" (Bu Liao Qing) This was a song originally sung by Koo Mei, who sang on behalf of the late actress Lin Dai in the movie with the same name (Bu Liao Qing); then popularized by Poon Sow Keng (another singer of the same generation as Lin Dai, Koo Mei, etc.) in about the mid-1960s. This song was covered by Tsa Chin, and a Cantonese version was sung by Anita Mui. The song was later given a rap interpretation by David Tao.
  • "Wine Added to Coffee" This theme song was unofficially used in Meteor Garden II where a few stanzas are sung when Shan Tsai's father gets drunk after work.
  • "As Gentle As a Breeze" (lit: Just Like Your Tenderness), covering a song originally recorded by Tsai Chin (蔡琴).
  • "A Small Wish" ().
  • "The Milky Way" (lit: Cloud River).
  • "Fragrance of the Night" ().
  • "How Would You Explain" (lit: Let's See What You'll Say Today).
  • "Raining on the East Mountain" (lit: East Mountain Raining West Mountain Clear).
  • "Don't pick the roadside flowers" (路边的野花不要采) composed by a Malaysian songwriter, and released in 1973, Teresa's early songs (before her debut in Japan in 1974) were mainly dominated by Chinese-folk aura, although "acculturated" with modern instruments.
  • "The Moon Represents My Heart" This song has been popularized by other artists like the late Leslie Cheung in the album Forever, Jerry Yan in the F4 concerts and Sammi Cheng with Jerry Yan in a duet. A fast version was sung by Linda Wong. The late Anita Mui sang this song as a tribute to Teresa Teng; she had also performed it as a duet with Andy Lau. A rap format was made by David Tao. This song was also translated into Filipino and sung by Zsa Zsa Padilla for the film Mano Po 2. Kim Chiu also sang her own version of the song. This remains her masterpiece (most popular song) since its release (1977) to this date. This song is popularly considered Teresa Teng's trademark.
  • "Stroll on the Road of Life" ().
  • "Your Sweet Smiles" (lit: Sweet Honey Honey) This song was later used in Love Storm, sung by Leon Lai in a livelier format and by Machi Didi in a rap format. The late Roman Tam also sang this in tribute to Teresa Teng. Various sources have this song based on an Indonesian folk song.
  • "On the Other Side of the Water" (). This song is later revived by Fahrenheit member Jiro Wang, used as theme in the show The X-Family.
  • "Small Town Story" ().
  • "Forget Him" ().
  • "Do You Know Whom I Love" ().
  • "Thank You" ().
  • "Goodbye My Love" (Indonesian language: Selamat Tinggal Kekasih) This is Teresa Teng's most popular song in Indonesia. Teresa Teng recorded the Indonesian version of this song in 1977, translated by Indonesian composer A. Riyanto for her only album in Indonesian.
  • "Wishing We Last Forever" A traditional poem, transformed into a song. Faye Wong later covered this song. Jolin Tsai also sang this song with Jay Zhou on piano.
  • "How Many Worries" Another poem turned into a song.
  • "I Only Care About You" (Japanese: 時の流れに身をまかせ (Toki-ni nagare-ni mi-o makase), "I Leave Myself in the Hands of The Flow of Time") She also sang this in a duet with Itsuki Hiroshi, and Jackie Chan, with a duet cover version of it released on one of his albums after her death, adding lyrics about her to honor her memory. Teresa's voice was mixed posthumously. Gigi Leung also released her own cover version of this song.
  • "Fruit" (Japanese: 別れの予感 (Wakare-no yokan)).
  • "To Live With You From Now On" (Japanese: あなたと共に生きてゆく)(Anata to Tomo ni Ikite Yuku) This was her last Japanese single. This song was re-sung by the song's lyricist Zard's Izumi Sakai in 2005. Surprisingly, the new version included music played by Erhu and contained Mandarin dialogues, in memory of Teng's 10th death anniversary.
  • "Airport" or "Lover's Concern" (空港)or (情人的关怀): This was her first Japanese original hit, released on July 1, 1974. This song and album made Teresa's popularity in Japan — and probably throughout the rest of Asia, and the rest of the world.
  • "The Night Ferryboat" or "You are in my Heart" (夜のフェリーボート) (你在我心中): This is another famous Japanese original song that was sung by various singers like Faye Wong.
  • "Night in Hong Kong" (香港の夜) or (香港之夜).
  • "Lover" (爱人).
  • "Love Compensation" (償い) or (偿还).

Major song awards she received in Japan

Teresa Teng received the following major song awards in Japan.

  • The Japan Record Awards (日本レコード大賞, Nihon Rekōdo Taishō)

Awarded each year are: Grand Prix (1), Best Song Award (1), Best New Singer Award (1), Gold Awards (10), New Singers Award (5), and more than 20 other awards.

Teresa Teng won the New Singers Award (新人賞) for her 「空港」(Kūkō) in 1974, and the Gold Award (金賞) in 1986 for her 「時の流れに身をまかせ」 (Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase). In 1995, she was awarded the Special Merit Award (特別功労賞).

  • All-Japan Cable Radio Awards (全日本有線放送大賞, Zen-Nihon Yūsen Hōsō Taishō)

Awarded each year are: Grand Prix (1) and about 15 other awards.

Teresa Teng won the Grand Prix (グランプリ)three times, as follows: for her 「つぐない」 (Tsugunai) in 1984, 「愛人」(Aijin) in 1985, and 「時の流れに身をまかせ」(Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase) in 1986. This was the first time that any singer had won the Grand Prix for three years in a row.

In 1987, she won the Outstanding Star Award (優秀スター賞) for her 「別れの予感」(Wakare no Yokan).

  • Japan Cable Radio Awards (日本有線大賞, Nihon Yūsen Taishō)

Awards Teresa Teng received were as follows:

1984: the Grand Prix (大賞), the Best Hit Award, and the Cable Radio Music Award -- for 「つぐない」 (Tsugunai) .

1985: the Grand Prix, the Best Hit Award, and the Cable Radio Music Award -- for 「愛人」(Aijin) .

1986: the Grand Prix, the Best Hit Award, and the Cable Radio Music Award -- for 「時の流れに身をまかせ」(Toki no Nagare ni Mi o Makase) .

Again, this was the first time that any singer had won the Grand Prix for three years in a row.

1987 and 1988: the Cable Radio Music Award for her 「別れの予感」(Wakare no Yokan).

1995: She was awarded the Cable Radio Special Merit Award (有線功労賞) for having won the Grand Prix three years in a row,


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