When I arrived in Harbin, China in 2004 to teach English, I wanted to learn at least a little Mandarin. Since music helps me a lot with other languages, I asked my friend Liyi for help. “Who can I listen to who sings Mandarin clearly and also beautifully?” Her immediate response was “Deng Lijun. Her English name was Teresa Teng. She didn’t come from Mainland China though, rather from Taiwan.” Liyi continued, “During the Cultural Revolution when I was growing up, she was banned in China. But we still listened to her music anyway. She brought hope to my family and to lots of other people. Hope that we could be happy again one day. When she died we were all very sad. She was too young and too beautiful to die when she did.”
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller
My curiosity piqued, I set out for a CD/DVD store. The first song I listened to was called “The Moon Represents My Heart” (Yuèliàng dàibiǎo wǒ de xīn 月亮代表我的心). Talk about heart…I felt mine was melting. Had I ever heard such tender singing before? Well, I guess I’m a romantic, just like millions of others who’ve been touched by this young Chinese woman’s voice. Helen Keller was right: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
The Moon Represents My Heart, 1970’s
A Texan YouTube friend of mine named Larry is unabashed in his sentiments:
What a voice…so pure, beautiful… I just discovered Teresa Teng in summer of 2010, through a Japanese friend, who sent me some Japanese songs she recorded while living in Japan. I was stunned, awed, overwhelmed. As a 62 y/o Caucasian Texas cowboy, I had never heard anything like her matchless, angelic voice. Now, I read and listen to everything I can find about her, mourn her premature passing, and seek to spread her message and music to friends, family, here in Texas and the US.
Many individuals on Youtube have dedicated themselves to creating beautiful videos to share Teresa’s legacy of love with the world. Most notably, I wish to say thank you to both Xin and George in the USA. In the words of George:
Teresa Teng’s aesthetic and excellent singing, modesty, and achievement… shall forever earn the respect and fond memories of all peoples… eternally beautiful more from the inside than on the outside… there is a certain tenderness in her that is absolutely captivating. Like millions of her fans, I am glad that she once lived in my lifetime.
Teresa Teng: The Princess Diana of the East
Teresa Teng and Princess Diana led “tragically romantic” lives. There was something about their beauty, sensitivity and vulnerability that endeared them to millions. The public, touched by the tender essence of these two, exalted them to the ranks of goddess. What must that have been like? What struggles did they undergo in trying to discover their own personal identities while bombarded by the projections of millions? Was theirs a love-hate relationship with the spotlight? Outwardly, they allowed their natural beauty to be enhanced by the right clothes, jewelry, makeup, etc. Cultivating an elegant and gracious demeanor added to their auras as well.
But inwardly? An Asian superstar and a British princess were not goddesses so much as human beings. Finding their way through a life of personal problems and public pressure must not have been easy. Moving through a series of unsuccessful love affairs, Diana seemed to be finally discovering a role for herself in the “bigger picture.” She appeared to be aligning with her own higher, authentic calling to help the world be a more wholesome place. Then what happened? She died, too young.
Like many others, I have a snapshot memory of exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of the fatal car crash. Princess Diana was still alive, though unconscious, in a land foreign to her own (France). Unbidden prayers gushed from me for her survival. It was 1997 and Diana was in the company of a man whose lifestyle was not good for her. She was only 38 years old. She was given a state funeral, had commemorative stamps printed by many countries after her passing and was honored with a superstar musician’s refashioning a song just for her. (Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”)
Teresa Teng, as well-known as she was by Asians living all over the world, was a complete unknown to me in 1995 when she passed away. It’s crazy for me to consider that Asians know all our Western stars, yet what do we know about theirs? Almost nothing. Like Diana, Teresa was young, only 42 years old. From what I can gather, she was not doing so well, not finding her role as a healthy, happy woman, fulfilled by life. Like Diana, Teresa was in a land foreign to her own (Thailand) and with a man likely not good for her at all. The “official” cause of death was asthma. She was given a state funeral in Taiwan, had commemorative stamps printed by many countries after her passing and was honored with a group of Asian superstar’s recording a song just for her. Those stars were Jackie Cheung, Qi Qin, Qi Yu, Pan Yue Yun, and Ai Jin (张学友 齐秦 ，齐豫 ，艾敬 ，潘越云). Here is an English translation of the lyrics by my YouTube friend George, whose YouTube channel is dedicated to keeping the memory of Teresa Teng alive and to bringing her legacy to the West. (To visit George’s channel, please click here: HKships4TeresaTeng2.)
The lyrics of this song to honor Teresa apparently incorporate some lines of poetry written by Teresa herself. Poignant, poetic and perfect, “A Star’s Wish” speaks for the loneliness at the heart of Teresa’s fame.
A Star’s Wish
Goodbye My Love 1976
What touches my heart about Teresa Teng was her heart, which she was not afraid to reveal. She was refreshingly unpretentious. Her very human heart shone through her exquisite professionalism time and again. Her heart is what endeared her to millions of people around the world and continues to do so to this day.
To understand what I mean, here is a video of Teresa early in her career, in Hong Kong, when she was only 23 years old.
In closing, I’d like to invite you to visit my music page which features more Teresa Teng videos. By the way, if you need a really good cry (and I mean that), scroll down to Bu Liao Qing (“Love without End”), sung by Teresa Teng. Or you can visit: the most tender recording you might ever hear.
I’d love for you to share your thoughts and feelings about Teresa Teng in the comments section below, and I thank you for visiting. Also, would you please share this blog?
[Zhídào xià yīcì (直到下一次 ), wǒ de péngyǒu (我的朋友)…]
Until next time, my friends…