Teresa Teng (鄧麗君) was a Taiwanese singer and Asian superstar who officially sold 22 million albums — and an estimated 50-75 million bootlegs) during her tragically short life. Despite her death at the age of 42, her career traversed four decades. With her covers of Japanese songs in Chinese (including Cantonese, Hokkein, and Mandarin), she is sometimes credited with helping to bridge the cultural gap between Taiwan, China, much of Southeast Asia, and their former colonizer, Japan (where known as テレサ・テン, she was especially popular).
Teresa Teng was born on 29 January 1953 in Baozhong, Yunlin County to Waishengren parents. Her father, Teng Hsu, was an ROC soldier from Daming, Heibei. Her mother was from Dongping, Shandong and when Teresa was a girl, she often took her to see Chinese movies and operas. Teresa was the fourth out of five children born to the couple and the only girl. She was schooled at Ginling Girls High School (私立金陵女中) in Sanchong Township.
As a child, Teng began singing when she was six years old. After attending school during they day, she performed music at night and won awards for her singing at talent competitions, including in 1964, when she sang “Visiting Yingtai” from Shaw Brothers‘ Huangmei opera movie, The Love Eterne. With her parents’ approval, she quit school to pursue singing professionally.
In 1973, Teng signed a contract with Polydor Japan and took part in the annual Kōhaku Uta Gassen competition. In 1974, the song “Airport” (“空港”) was a Japanese hit. She remained beloved in Japan despite being briefly barred from entering it in 1979 after she was discovered to be in possession of a fake passport purchased for US $20,000 following an official break in relations between Japan and Taiwan after China took the latter’s seat in the United Nations.
After the incident, Teresa Teng moved to Los Angeles to live with a younger brother. Hardly laying low, though, 1979 must in fact have been a key year for Teng as it was then that she enrolled in a college preparatory English program at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and recorded the album, 甜蜜蜜 (which I believe translates to “sweet honey”). Teng also produced videos for the songs “伊人何處,” “野生花,” and “初恋的地方” in location in Los Angeles.
It was also during Teng’s life as an Angeleno that she met Jackie Chan, then relatively unknown outside of Asia, who was then in the country for his first time filming The Big Brawl. According to his biography, they went on walks and dined in Chinatown but although the friendship was important, he stressed in his biography wasn’t what he’d characterize as a relationship.
In 1980, Teng performed at Los Angeles’s Music Center and New York City‘s Lincoln Centre — an apparent first at both venues for an ethnically Chinese performer. Among the selections were “小城故事” and “千言万语.”
In 1982, Teng was engaged to Malaysian businessman Beau Kuok. However, the family of her fiancee’s grotesquely wealthy family weren’t apparently keen on their son marrying a mere artist. They also, apparently, perversely insisted that she provide them with a written record of her previous relationships, which reportedly began with Lim Zhen Fa, the son of a Malaysian casino tycoon who died of a heart attack. Teng ended the relationship with Beau Kuok and, according to some, began self-medicating to deal with the pain.
It was also in the 1980s that Teng’s music was banned in China but grew thanks to the black market. By then, however, her fame had spread to places with large Chinese communities like Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the San Gabriel Valley. The ban in China was eventually lifted and Teresa was even nicknamed “Little Deng” because she had the same family name as China’s then-leader, Deng Xiaoping.
In 1981, Teresa Teng’s Polydor contract ended and she signed with Taurus Records. For many Japanese fans, the second half of the decade was Teng’s golden years. For four consecutive years between 1984-1989, in fact, she won Japan’s All-Japan Record Awards. In 1989, Teng performed in Paris and voiced support for the pro-democratic protesters at Tiananmen Square. On 27 May 1989, she performed to an audience of over 300,000 people at Hong Kong’s “Democratic songs dedicated to China” (民主歌聲獻中華). That year, however, she quietly retired from public performance.
The CPC invited Teresa Teng to perform for the first time in China but she died on 8 May 1995 in Suite 1502, Imperial Mae Ping Hotel whilst on vacation in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are plenty of rumors, of course, including that she’d died from a drug overdose — a view promoted by her French boyfriend Paul Quilery who was supposedly buying groceries when she died. Quilery later claimed, additionally, that the two were had been engaged to be married that August.
Teng was given state honors at her funeral in Taiwan. A day of national mourning was declared and president Lee Teng-hui was amongst those in attendance. Teng was posthumously awarded the KMT Hua-Hsia Grade One Medal (the Ministry of Defense‘s highest honor for civilians). She was buried in a mountainside tomb at Chin Pao San, a cemetery in Jinshan. The grave features a statue of Teng made of gold and a large electronic keyboard that can be played by visitors.
A tribute album called A Tribute to Teresa Teng was released in 1995. In 2002, a wax figure was unveiled at Madame Tussaud’s Hong Kong. A house she purchased in Hong Kong in 1986 at No. 18 Carmel Street, Stanley has become a site of pilgrimage for her fans. A set of stamps featuring Teng was released by the Chunghwa Post. In 2007, Yoshino Kimura played Teresa Teng in the Japanese film, Teresa Teng Monogatari (テレサ・テン物語). Her songs have covered by the likes of Faye Wong, Joanna Wang, Jon Bon Jovi, and many others. Fans of Tengs recognized the inclusion of “When Will You Return” (also known as “Waiting For Your Return”) in the 2018 Hollywood film, Crazy Rich Asians.
- 鄧麗君精選歌曲 (1967, Yeu Jow Record)
- 嘿嘿阿哥哥 ( 鄧麗君之歌第三集) (1967, Yeu Jow Record)
- 鄧麗君之歌第四集「比翼鳥」 (1968, 宇宙)
- 鄧麗君之歌第五集「暢飲一杯」(1968, Yeu Jow Record)
- 一見你就笑 (第六集 ) (1968, Yeu Jow Record)
- 鄧麗君之歌第七集 (1968, Yeu Jow Record)
- 鄧麗君之歌第九集 (1968, Yeu Jow Record)
- 鄧麗君之歌第十一集 ~ 再會吧！十七歲 (1968, Yeu Jow Record)
- 鄧麗君之歌第十二集 (1969, Yeu Jow Record)
- 晶晶 (1969, 宇宙)
- 蔓莉蔓莉我愛妳 (1969, Chiu’s Musical Enterprises)
- 昨夜夢醒時 (1970, Four Seas Records)
- 鄧麗君之歌第十六集 ~ 戀愛的路多麼甜 (1970, Yeu Jow Record)
- 勸世歌 (1970, Yeu Jow Record)
- 愛情 1, 2, 3 / 台北姑娘樂風 (1970, 樂風)
- 難忘的初戀情人 / 賣肉粽 (1971, 樂風)
- 鄧麗君之歌 (1971, 樂風)
- X+Y就是愛 (1971, Yeu Jow Record)
- 忘不了初戀的情人 (1971, 香港瑞成唱片公司)
- 愛人是個多情人 (1971, Hai Shan Records Co., Ltd.)
- (split with Wan Sha Lang) 電影原聲帶插曲「風從那裡來」(1972, LIFE Records)
- 南游纪念金唱片 (1972, 樂風)
- 當我已經知道愛 / 娜奴娃情歌 (1972, 樂風)
- 你可知道我愛誰 + 風從那裡來 (1972, 樂風)
- 電影 愛魂 原聲带插曲 (1972, LIFE Records)
- (split with Zhang Di, Wang Fei, and Shang Guan Ping) 天下一大笑 (1972, Life)
- 永相愛 ❋ 沒有愛怎麼活 (1972, LIFE Records)
- 你可知道我愛誰 (1972, LIFE Records)
- 率領麗星歌劇團巡迴演唱 古裝新潮惹笑歌劇 現場錄音 唐伯虎點秋香 (1973, 麗星歌劇團)
- (split with Wan Sha Lang and You Ya) 彩雲飛 (1973, 樂風)
- 第一次見到你 – 情花 – 愛的你呀何處尋 (1973, 樂風)
- 少年愛姑娘 (1973, 樂風)
- 悲哀的夢 (1973, 樂風)
- 情花 / 再度蜜月 (1973, Life)
- (split with Yuan Ye San Chong Chang and Wan Sha Lang) 海韻 (1974, 樂風)
- 青山綠水我和你 (1974, Life)
- 把愛埋藏在心窩 / 你愛哪一朵 (1974, 樂風)
- ふるさとはどこですか (1974, Polydor)
- 空港 (1974, Polydor)
- The Colorful Ripples 水漣漪 / 有誰知道我 (1974, LIFE Records)
- 海韻 (1974, LIFE Records)
- 近水樓台 (1975, 樂風)
- 夜の乗客 + 女の生きがい (1975, Polydor)
- 島國之情歌 – 再見，我的愛人 = Goodbye My Love (1975, Polydor)
- (with Tam Shun Cheng) 恭喜發財 新年好 (1975, 樂風)
- Clouds Fly (1975, 樂風)
- 演歌のメッセージ (1980, Kuopin Record Co.)
- 勢不兩立 (1980, Polydor)
- 在水一方 (1980, Polydor)
- (鄧麗君) 原鄉人 (1980, Polydor)
- Original Sound Track Movie “Yuan” (1980, Surya Emas Record)
- 薔薇處處聞 (1980, 逢源唱片公司)
- 世界多美麗 (1980, 逢源唱片公司)
- 水上人 (1981, Polydor)
- 愛像一首歌 (1981, Polydor)
- ジェルソミーナの歩いた道 (1981, Kuopin Record Co.)
- 假如我是真的 (1981, 鄧麗君演唱會)
- 現場錄音珍藏版 (1982, 鄧麗君演唱會
- 初次尝到寂寞 (1982, 淡淡幽情)
- 漫步人生路 (1983, Polydor)
- 週年 (1983, Polydor)
- 演唱會 = Encore (1983, Polydor)
- 償還 (1984, Taurus)
- 島國情歌第八集 愛的使者 (1984, Polydor)
- つぐない (1984, Taurus)
- 演唱會 (蒞星現場錄音) (1984, Polailoi 寶麗來唱片公司)
- 償還 (1985, Polydor)
- 愛人 (1985, Taurus)
- 名曲•千言萬語 (1985, Polailoi 寶麗來唱片公司)