Songs into the Mind: Populism, Civil Society, and the Fans Culture of Teresa Teng between the Taiwan Strait

Yi ZENG, Siyue LIU

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review


Teresa Teng (Deng Lijun) has always been known as a “patriotic singer” in Taiwan during the Cold War. Her songs in the cultural Cold War context attempted to capture people’s hearts and minds between the Taiwan Strait. From a diplomatic point of view, Teng’s songs were another symbol of “The Three Principles of the People Reunite China”. Teng performed in the military of Taiwan and mobilized overseas Chinese to donate for Taiwan in Malaysia, even claiming that “The Three Principles of the People” would not be realized in Mainland China, she would never sing in the Mainland. Teng’s love song culture was a kind of “war of the heart”, which was one of Taiwan’s few successful propagandas against the Mainland. Although Teng’s songs were officially banned, her songs had already spread to the north and south of Mainland China through radio stations and secret tapes. Teng’s fans included many intellectuals and, particularly, university and college students. These fans also actively promoted the democratic and cultural enlightenment movement in Mainland China in the 1980s. As a result, Teng’s songs were given renewed political significance. In addition, the popularity of Teng’s songs changed the image of Taiwan that the Chinese Communist Party had previously propagated in the public’s mind, reshaping Mainlanders’perception of Taiwan. The Hong Kong film “Comrades: Almost A Love Story (Tian Mimi)”, named after Teng’s songs, and made by Hong Kong director, Chan Ho-San, in the 1990s, narrates the significant impact of Teng on the relationship between the Chinese overseas. The hero and heroine met in Hong Kong, making a living together there. On New Year’s Eve, they set up a stall to sell Teresa Teng’s tapes, which were very popular among Mainlanders working in Hong Kong. Teng’s songs transcended the political sphere and became the common and emotional memory of a generation of global Chinese. Finally, in New York, they met again after hearing news of Teng’s death. For the audience, the depiction of the “ideal China” in Teng’s songs not only heals the psychological wounds of Mainlanders who have endured political movements but also captures the unnamed nostalgia of overseas Chinese. Teresa Teng is still a cultural icon for which both sides of the Taiwan Strait compete. The official attitude toward Teng, however, has changed dramatically in Mainland China during the past decade. Teng nearly became an official cultural icon on both sides of the Strait. Many decades after her death, Teng still appears in the most searched hashtags of Mainland China’s mainstream media. The Mainland narrative of Teng is one that emphasizes her “Chinese” identity by, for example, claiming that Teng spoke the Shandong dialect to promote her concept of cross-strait unification. Such an interpretation is certainly incorrect as far as Teng’s original intentions are concerned, and is an attempt to recast her into a kind of “Chineseness” instead of “Taiwaneseness”.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2022
Event14th Annual Conference of the International Society for Cultural History: Cultures of Belief and Unbelief - University of Verona, Italy
Duration: 2 Aug 20225 Aug 2022


Conference14th Annual Conference of the International Society for Cultural History
Abbreviated titleISCH2022
Internet address


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