Best Chinese Songs of the 1980s

Chinese classics were neither better nor worse than the music of today. It was a different kind of music, stuff that sounded very different from western pop, especially the Cantonese songs—so beautiful! We’ve reviewed the big hits of the 80s and came up with a personal list of our favourites. To keep things tidy, we’re including only one song per artist.

20. “Childhood” by Luo, Dayou (Taiwan)

Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 童年, 罗大佑
Pinyin Romanization: “Tong Nian” by Luo, Dayou
Year of Release: 1982

The grandfather of Mandarin rock released his debut album Zhi Hu Zhe Ye 之乎者也 in 1982. “Childhood” was its masterpiece, as important a song as it is a treat to the ears: catchy, driving, and playful. MV

19. “Have Nothing” by Cui, Jian (PRC)


Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 一无所有, 崔健
Pinyin Romanization: “Yi Wu Suo You” by Cui, Jian
Year of Release: 1986

This was Mainland China’s first rock star’s first big hit, an instant classic. MV

18. “Rare Lovers” by Shirley Kwan (Hong Kong)


Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 难得有情人, 关淑怡
Pinyin Romanization: “Nan De You Qing Ren” by Guan, Shuyi
Year of Release: 1989

Shirley’s nearly forgotten these days. But she did perform two of the all-time biggest hits of Cantopop. This number was named Cantonese Song of the Year in Hong Kong. MV

17. “Romantic Rainy Night” by Alan Tam (Hong Kong)


Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 雨夜的浪漫, 谭咏麟
Pinyin Romanization: “Yu Ye de Lang Man” by Tan, Yonglin
Year of Release: 1985

Tam was part of the band Wynners with Kenny Bee but disagreed with the band’s simply doing Chinese versions of English songs, so he left the band to become a soloist. MV

16. “Bonds of Friendship” by Teresa Cheung (Hong Kong)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 情义两心坚, 张德兰
Pinyin Romanization: “Qing Yi Liang Xin” by Zhang, Delan
Year of Release: 1983

Early on, Teresa was part of the group Four Golden Flowers. She became famous by singing theme songs of several TVB drama series. MV

15. “As Long As You’re Better Off Than Me” by Kenny Bee (Hong Kong)


Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 只要你过得比我好, 钟镇涛
Pinyin Romanization: “Zhi Yao Ni Guo de Bi Wo Hao” by Zhong, Zhentao
Year of Release: 1989

Alan Tam’s Wynners’ band mate did pretty well as a soloist, especially with this classic. MV

14. “I May Be Ugly, But I’m Gentle” by Zhao, Chuan (Taiwan)

Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 我很丑可是我很温柔, 赵传
Pinyin Romanization: “Wo Hen Chou Ke Shi Wo Hen Wen Rou” by Zhao, Chuan
Year of Release: 1989

Here’s another forgotten superstar. It seems that, after Mr. Zhao hit the airwaves with this Mandarin classic, which incidentally made him an overnight star, every Chinese song ever since had to include the term wenrou in the lyrics. MV

13. “You Really Don’t Understand My Heart” by Angus Tong (Taiwan)

Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 其实你不懂我的心, 童安格
Pinyin Romanization: “Qi Shi Ni Bu Dong Wo de Xin” by Tong, Ange
Year of Release: 1989

Before the likes of Jay Zhou and David Tao, old Angus was the number one male singer from Taiwan. He was so good that we found it difficult to select his best song. We finally settled on this one. MV

12. “Love Is Gone” by Jacky Cheung (Hong Kong)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 情已逝, 张学友
Pinyin Romanization: “Qing Yi Shi” by Zhang, Xueyou
Year of Release: 1985

Believe it or not, this was the very first big hit song from the greatest male Chinese singer of all-time, and definitely one of his best. MV

11. “Tomorrow Will Be Better” by Various Artists (Greater China)

Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 明天更美好
Pinyin Romanization: Ming Tian Geng Mei Hao
Year of Release: 1985

This is the classic to end all classics. “Beijing Welcomes You” was not the first time all the pop stars got together. Back in the mid-80s, Luo Dayou assembled all the (Mandarin) pop stars of the day to sing this song about the glory of China, celebrating 40 years of freedom from invasion. There are some who consider this the greatest Chinese song ever written. The music video is a must-see—absolutely beautiful! MV

10. “Life’s Desires” by Danny Chan (Hong Kong)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 一生何求, 陈百强
Pinyin Romanization: “Yi Sheng He Qiu” by Chen, Baiqiang
Year of Release: 1989

Just about anything dear Danny sang was gold. This song was so good that, even though sung in Cantonese, it was a big hit all over China back in the day. His untimely death was a huge blow to the Chinese music industry. MV

9. “Who Is Your Best Lover?” by George Lam (Hong Kong)


Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 最爱是谁, 林子祥
Pinyin Romanization: “Zui Ai Shi Shei?” by Lin, Zixiang
Year of Release: 1986

This was written by Hong Kong’s great Lowell Lo for the movie in which George starred, “Passion”. It deservedly won Song of the Year in Hong Kong. MV

8. “I Only Care about You” by Teresa Deng (Taiwan)


Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 我只在乎你, 邓丽君
Pinyin Romanization: “Wo Zhi Zai Hu Ni” by Deng, Lijun
Year of Release: 1987

This timeless classic has been covered by 70 different artists. But none can sing it better than Teresa, the greatest Chinese pop star of all-time. MV

7. “Am I the One You Love Most?” by Michelle Pan (Taiwan)


Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 我是不是你最疼爱的人, 潘越云
Pinyin Romanization: “Wo Shi Bu Shi Ni Zui Teng Ai De Ren” by Pan, Yueyun
Year of Release: 1989

If only everyone could sing like her. A feast for the ears. MV

6. “High Heels in September” by Qi, Yu (Taiwan)


Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 九月的高跟鞋, 齐豫
Pinyin Romanization: “Jiu Yue de Gao Gen Xie” by Qi, Yu
Year of Release: 1988

Dazzling Greater China with her “Olive Tree” in the late 70s, Qi Yu became one of the first stars of Mandarin pop. This was her best song in the 80s. MV

5. “Miss You” by Leslie Cheung (Hong Kong)


Language: Both Cantonese and Mandarin versions exist
Chinese: 想你, 张国荣
Pinyin Romanization: “Xiang Ni” by Zhang, Guorong
Year of Release: 1988

We didn’t care much for “Monica”. Fans of the late-great Leslie would probably accost us for listing this as his best song. But, there’s just something exhilarating about it, its saxophone solo, and the fact that Leslie wrote the music himself. MV

4. “Past Wind” by Qi, Qin (Taiwan)

Language: Mandarin
Chinese: 往事随风, 齐秦
Pinyin Romanization: “Wang Shi Sui Feng” by Qi, Qin
Year of Release: 1985

Qi Yu’s little brother released his classic Wolf album in ’85, one of the best albums of Chinese rock – ever! We liked this song the best. MV

3. “Like You” by Beyond (Hong Kong)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 喜欢你, Beyond
Pinyin Romanization: “Xi Huan Ni” by Beyond
Year of Release: 1988

They’re the Chinese Beatles. Need we say more? MV

2. “Silly Girl” by Priscilla Chan (Hong Kong)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 傻女, 陈慧娴
Pinyin Romanization: “Sha Nu” by Chen, Huixian
Year of Release: 1988

Who could not like Priscilla? This is Cantonese music at its very best. Her “Night Flight” was great too. MV

1. “Good Luck” by Sally Yeh (Canada)

Language: Cantonese
Chinese: 祝福, 叶蒨文
Pinyin Romanization: “Zhu Fu” Ye, Qianwen
Year of Release: 1987

She’s known as the Chinese Céline Dion. This song was just so damn good! MV

You can find our Best Chinese Songs of the 1990s HERE.
And our Best Chinese Songs of the 2000s is HERE.

Chinese-Canadian Singers

It’s difficult to identify famous Chinese-Canadian singers because many of them don’t declare whether or not they are, in fact, Canadian citizens. There are Chinese who live in Canada, some of whom are citizens, some permanent residents, and some just in the country on student or some other form of visas. Others are in the opposite situation. They are Canadian citizens but they don’t live in Canada. This is especially true for singers because they are more accepted in the Chinese entertainment industry and therefore relocate to Asia. Some of these are born in Canada but live abroad their whole lives and whether or not they are Canadian citizens is a mystery. Of those who are citizens, some are naturalized Canadians (move here after birth and become citizens) and some are citizens from birth (because one or both parents are). There are also a number of “mixed-blood beauties” (as they are known in China). One parent is Chinese and one is not. Yes, it’s complicated. What we’ll do is list all singers who have both Canadian and Chinese connections and specify what we know about their “status” as Canadians and as Chinese.

Angus Tong 童安格

Angus, born in Taiwan, emigrated to Canada at some point later in his career. It is not known whether or not he has become a citizen.

Leslie Cheung 张国荣

Leslie, born in Hong Kong, took a five-year break from his high-profile entertainment career by emigrating to Vancouver. In 1992, he became a Canadian citizen. He returned to Asia in 1995 to resume his singing and acting. He committed suicide in Hong Kong in 2003.

Angela Zhang (a.k.a. Chang) 张韶涵

Angela, born in Taiwan, went to high school in Vancouver. Afterwards she returned to Taiwan to launch her singing (and acting) career. There is no indication that she became a Canadian citizen while studying in Canada.

Jason Chan 陈柏宇

Jason was born in Hong Kong but grew up in the Toronto area. It appears that he is a Canadian citizen.


Calvin Chen 陈奕儒

Calvin was born in Taiwan. After high school there, he attended Simon Fraser University in the Vancouver area. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Victoria. In 2004 he returned to Taiwan and in 2005 became a member of the boy band Fahrenheit there.


Elva Xiao 萧亚轩

Elva, born in Taibei, went to college in Vancouver. It is unknown whether or not she became a Canadian citizen. Naturally, after becoming famous, she returned to Taiwan.

Peter He (a.k.a. Ho) 何润东

Peter is often mistaken for a Canadian because he attended college in Ontario. But he is an American-born Chinese.

Catalina Yue

Catalina is one of the few Chinese-Canadians who has released a recognized English-language album—Eternally in 2008. She was born in Toronto and is a Canadian citizen.

Henry Lau 刘宪华

Henry was born in Toronto. His mother’s Taiwanese and his father’s a Hong Konger. As far as we know he’s a Canadian citizen. Henry is part of the Korean boy band Super Junior-M.

Vivian Chow 周慧敏

Vivian emigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong after she retired from her singing career. It is unknown whether or not she has become a Canadian citizen.

Sally Yeh 叶蒨文

Sally was born in Taibei, Taiwan but grew up in Vancouver. She’s a Canadian citizen.

Kelvin Kwan 关楚耀

Kelvin was born in Canada, growing up in Toronto. All indications are that he is a Canadian citizen. He relocated to Hong Kong after fame graced his life.

Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍

Charlene was born in Vancouver but moved to Hong Kong with her family only a few years later. She grew up in Hong Kong and became famous, joining the group Twins. It is a mystery as to whether or not she has Canadian citizenship.

Edison Chen 陈冠希

Edison was born in Vancouver and is a Canadian citizen. After fame came his way, he relocated to Hong Kong.

Jade Kwan 关心妍

Jade was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Vancouver. As far as we know, she’s a Canadian citizen. After she became famous, she moved back to Hong Kong.

Nicholas Tse 谢霆锋

Nicholas was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Vancouver. He has dual Canadian and Hong Kong citizenship. He currently lives in Hong Kong.

Jacky Zhu (a.k.a. Chu) 祝钒刚

As far as we know, Jacky was born in Canada, grew up in Vancouver, and is a Canadian citizen. He moved to Taiwan when he became famous and joined the band 183 Club.

Denise Ho 何韵诗

Denise was born in Hong Kong and moved to Montreal with her family when she was 11. She received the rest of her education there and became a Canadian citizen. She moved back to Hong Kong when she became famous.

Melissa O’Neil 奧詩敏

Melissa is half Chinese (from her mother). She was the winner of the third season of Canadian Idol in 2005 and released an album that year which went gold. Her song “Alive” was a chart-topper (#1) and the single was certified 4x Platinum in Canada. Other hits included “Let It Go” (#7) and “Speechless” (#31). She is now in a Toronto band called God Made Me Funky.

Chinese Pop Music in the Late 1980s

“Tomorrow Will Be Better” took the Chinese world by storm in 1985. There are many who proclaim it the greatest Chinese song in history. It certainly was something special to see all the pop stars assembled together to sing a song about the glory of the Chinese people. The man behind the song—Luo Dayou— had made great headway in the development of Mandarin rock and this quickly gave rise to others. That same year, Qi Yu’s brother Qi Qin, his juvenile delinquent days behind him, released one of the greatest Mandarin rock albums in history—Wolf. Mainland China was to make a significant contribution the following year. Their first rock star appeared thanks to his song “Nothing to My Name”. His name was Cui Jian.

Hong Kong was not going to rest content with their large number of big name singers. Jacky Cheung debuted in 1985. We’ll talk about him later in conjunction with the “four kings”. In 1987, Sandy Lam debuted with “Gray”. The following year, Priscilla Chan hit the airwaves with “Silly Girl” and Chinese Canadian Sally Yeh came out with “Good Luck”.

Everything came to a climax in 1989. Some regard it as the best year in Chinese music ever. John Woo’s sleeper hit The Killer was in cinemas. Sally Yeh starred in the film and sang its theme song “Drunk for Life”. Hong Kong’s Shirley Kwan nabbed Cantonese Song of the Year with “Rare Lovers”. Male singer Hacken Lee scored his first major hit (“Life Changes”). Wynners’ Kenny Bee came out with his big solo hit, “As Long As You’re Better Off Than Me”. Priscilla Chan came out with her timeless classic “Thousands of Songs” and Danny Chan with, “What You Want in Life”, both huge hits throughout the Cantonese and Mandarin regions of China. But, perhaps most significant of all was the rise to superstardom of China’s first rock band (thanks to “Really Love You”) who composed their own original Chinese songs and played their own instruments. They were to become the greatest Chinese rock band in history and referred to as “The Chinese Beatles”. They called themselves Beyond.

Things were no less remarkable in Mandarin pop. Shanghai radio stations began in 1989 to hold weekly countdowns of the top songs. By the end of the decade Taiwan’s Angus Tong had secured the enviable position as the number one singer. Three of the top ten songs on the year-end charts in Shanghai were from Angus. Another major force was Zhao Chuan with two songs: “I’m Ugly but I’m Gentle” and “In the End, I Lost You”. He scored another big hit the following year: “I Was a Little Bird”. The singer who was to outlast Zhao’s popularity by a wide margin, however, was Jeff Zhang (“Can’t Forget Your Face”). While these men were ripping up the charts, school girls across the country were obsessed with the male singing trio called Xiao Hu Dui or “The Little Tigers”. “Green Apple Paradise” and “Red Dragonfly” were big hits.


Qi Qin

Chinese Name: 齐秦
Mandarin Name: Qí Qín
(b. 1960 in Taizhong, Taiwan)

Biggest Hits:



During his childhood, Qin’s father enforced a strict daily study routine that began at 5 AM and included classic Chinese literature. Qin did not like to read, and rebelled against his father in his teens by joining a local gang. His public mischief landed him in prison for three years, during which time he picked up the guitar and taught himself to play.

By the time he was released, his sister Qi Yu had already become a famous singer. She encouraged his musical pursuits by buying an expensive guitar for him and the two began singing together. Although he released his debut in 1981 (See Her Slip Away Again), his big breakthrough came four years later, a rock masterpiece called Wolf. In 1992, Qi converted to Buddhism and refers to his music after this year as his “Deer Period”, pre-’92 being his “Wolf period”.


Sandy Lam

Chinese Name: 林忆莲
Cantonese Name: Lam Yik Lin
Mandarin Name: Lín Yìlián
(b. 1966 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

灰色 “Gray”
至少还有你 “At Least I Still Have You”
伤痕 “Scar”

One reason for Sandy’s success was her great singing voice; moreover, her command of Mandarin, Cantonese, and even English were impeccable. Unlike other artists who stuck to success formulae, she daringly experimented with different genres of music and demonstrated to other singers that the key to remaining popular is creativity.

Sandy began her professional career at age 16, working as a DJ for Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She signed a recording contract in 1984 and became a star in 1987 with “Gray”. In 1991 she became a household name throughout China with her Mandarin mega-hit “Home Again Without You”, which won her a Best Mandarin song award in Hong Kong. In 1995, she teamed up with renowned Taiwanese producer Jonathan Lee (whom she later married) and issued the Mandarin album Love. It became one of the all-time biggest-selling Chinese albums thanks, in part, to the hit single “Scar”. In Y2K, Lam came out with the gorgeous love song “At Least I still Have You” which remained on the Chinese karaoke charts for a whopping eight straight months. Sandy is also known for doing a Chinese cover of Robbie William’s song “Better Man”.


Priscilla Chan

Chinese Name: 陈慧娴
Mandarin Name: Chén Huìxián
Cantonese Name: Chan Wai Han
(b. 1965 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

傻女 “Silly Girl”
夜机 “Night Flight”
千千阕歌 “Thousands of Songs”
红茶馆 “Red Teahouse”
飘雪 “Snowfall”
归来吧 “Come Back”

As a teenager, Priscilla would often enter singing contests and secured her first record contract when she was only 18 in 1983. She scored several minor hits but became a superstar in 1988 with the release of “Silly Girl”, one of the ten biggest songs of the year in Hong Kong. The following year, she beat out heavyweights Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Sally Yeh, and Alan Tam to hold the year’s best-selling album, Always Be Your Friend. Not only did the song “Night Flight” become a classic but her “Thousands of Songs” was a sensation all over China. It was declared the second biggest song of the year on Shanghai’s AM 792 radio station and fourth on their FM 103.7.

But at the peak of her success, she announced she was leaving to pursue university studies in the United States. During her academic career, she returned to Hong Kong during her summer breaks to record albums. Hits during this time included “Snowfall”, “Come Back”, and “Red Teahouse”. After obtaining her degree in psychology, she returned to Hong Kong and recorded two albums: Welcome Back and I’m Not Lonely. Her song “I’m Lonely” topped the charts. She held a series of concerts in Hong Kong in 1996 (ten nights) and performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Symphony in 1997. She signed onto a new record company but did not work well with them. Her beloved cat died which caused her great grief. By 2000 she had retreated from the music industry.


Sally Yeh

Chinese name: 叶倩文
Mandarin Name: Yè Qiànwén
Cantonese Name: Yip Sin Man
(b. 1961 in Taibei, Taiwan)

Biggest Hits:

祝福 “Good Luck”
浅醉一生 “Drunk for Life” (from the film “The Killer”)
焚心以火 “Heart Aflame”
信自己 (with Alex To)
潇洒走一回 “Life Should Be Chic”
伤逝 “Mourning”

Sally Yeh has often been called the Celine Dion of Hong Kong, but she is not from Hong Kong; she is a Canadian who was born in Taiwan. Having grown up in Vancouver, Canada, her English was better than her Chinese but Canadian prejudice prevented Canadians of Asian descent from becoming pop stars. Her only chance of success was improving her Chinese and recording albums in Cantonese and Mandarin in order to launch her career in China. In the beginning, she had to read from sign boards of romanized (pinyin) lyrics in the recording studio. She launched her singing career in 1980. But her big breakthrough came in 1988 with her song “Good Luck”. The following year she starred in and sang the theme song of John Woo’s acclaimed masterpiece The Killer. She gave up acting quickly as she was opposed to the types of roles Chinese women were expected to play in the movies and focused on her music career. “Heart Aflame” became a big hit throughout China in 1990. “Life Should Be Chic” won a Mandarin song of the year award in Hong Kong. In the mid-90s Yeh slowly retreated from public life after she married fellow Chinese pop star George Lam. But in 2002 she made a triumphant comeback with “Mourning”. On January 7th, 2011, Yeh was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Golden Needle Award by RTHK.



Biggest Hits:
真的爱你 “Truly Love You”

Beyond are often referred to as the Chinese Beatles. Finally, an actual band appeared who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. The Chinese Fab Four remain extremely popular today and everyone knows their songs. In the early 80s, musicians Wong Ka-Kui and Yip Sai-Wing took an interest in Pink Floyd and progressive rock. They started out in 1983 playing music simply as a hobby. Wong’s little brother Ka-Keung joined them the following year, and, in 1985, Paul Wong. The group struggled financially, doing everything themselves from selling tickets to their shows to buying their own equipment. When they realized they couldn’t earn a living, they decided to go professional and rented a studio to make a record. Other musicians in the studio invited them to a music festival in Taiwan. They were well-received and offered a recording contract. Superstardom came in 1989 with their “Truly Love You” a song that was so popular that Mandarin-speakers learned the Cantonese lyrics by heart. Their 1990 album Party of Fate which included the song “Glory Years” about racism went triple platinum. Their popularity exploded all over Asia: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan.

On June 24th, 1993, Beyond appeared on a Japanese game show. Beyond’s lead singer and principal songwriter Wong Ka-Kui fell off the 3-metre-high stage and sustained massive head injuries. He was rushed off to the hospital where he fell into a coma. One week later he died. The funeral procession in Hong Kong resulted in traffic along major streets to come to a halt. All major pop stars in the city were in attendance.


Angus Tong


Chinese Name: 童安格
Mandarin Name: Tóng Āngé
(b. 1959 in Taibei)

Biggest Hits:

其实你不懂我的心 “You Really Don’t Understand My Heart”
明天你是否依然爱我 “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”

By the end of the decade, Angus Tong An Ge had established himself as the number one Mandarin pop star in China. His “You Really Don’t Understand My Heart” is one of the most famous Chinese songs ever recorded. Angus debuted in 1985 with the solo album Miss You. He is admired for his elegant, quiet demeanour, good music and lyrical composition, and first-class vocals. He expertly combined classical and modern styles as well as eastern and western. Angus was part of school choirs from an early age. His elementary school came in second place in provincial competitions. His index finger got caught in the door and for a long time he was unable to write. After school he became a military band conductor and was asked to teach singing to army officers. He also participated in singing groups who released some albums in the late 70s. After his term of military service he could not find work and spent his time writing songs and cartooning. His songs attracted the attention of Polygram records in 1983 and he released his first solo album two years later. After several successful albums, he released his acclaimed masterpiece You Really Don’t Understand My Heart which caused an unprecedented sensation. He was elected the year’s most popular singer in Shanghai. He was so popular that his Mandarin songs entered the Hong Kong market where he received a number of awards.

He toured the Mainland in 1991 and his concerts sold out quickly. In 1994 he continued his acting work by starring in Terracotta Warriors and also composed the soundtrack. He was subsequently invited to hold a concert in Las Vegas, USA. He was the first Taiwanese artist to perform at the MGM GRAND, opening for Barbara Streisand. Two years later, he was invited to participate in the CCTV Chinese New Year Festivities in Beijing. Afterwards, he emigrated to Canada.


Jeff Zhang

Chinese Name: 张信哲
Mandarin Name: Zhāng Xìnzhé
(b. 1967 in Yunlin, Taiwan)

Biggest Hits:

让我忘记你的脸 “Can’t Forget Your Face”

Jeff Zhang Xin Zhe entered a folk-rock music competition in 1988 and signed a recording contract with Rock Records. The following year he came out with three albums. His song “Can’t Forget Your Face” was a big hit and he became known as the Prince of Love Songs. A string of hits followed. Jeff spends his spare time collecting folk art and engaging in water sports and horseback riding.