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.

The Four Kings

After the boom in the music industry in the late 80s, record companies in Hong Kong became greedy. Logically, if a singer had fans, they would buy his albums no matter how good or bad the music was, so they began demanding singers record many albums of mediocre songs. In 1990, the music took a nose dive; few good songs sounded over the airwaves.

In order to salvage the Cantonese pop scene from certain doom, the market ploy was adopted the following year of appointing “Four Heavenly Kings” of Cantopop. In 1991, the four most renowned male singers in Hong Kong were identified and given the title. Although the actual vocal abilities of a couple of them can be called into question, the marketing scheme worked. Of course, they were manufactured kings in that record companies sent the best songs from the composers to them.

The Four Kings were:

The Singing Pop Star: Jacky Cheung
The Acting Pop Star: Andy Lau
The Dancing Pop Star: Aaron Kwok
The Teen Idol Pop Star: Leon Lai

It was Jacky Cheung, already an established singer by this time, who eventually came to be regarded as the second biggest Chinese singer of all time (after Teresa Deng).

Jacky Cheung


Chinese Name: 张学友
Cantonese Name: Cheung Hok Yau
Mandarin Name: Zhāng Xúeyǒu
(b. 1961 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

情已逝 “Love Is Gone”
每天爱妳多一些 “Love You a Little More Each Day”
吻别 “Goodbye Kiss”

Jacky Cheung was working as a reservations clerk for Cathay Pacific when he entered a singing contest along with 10,000 people in Hong Kong in 1984. He won and was immediately signed by Polygram (now Universal). His first big hit appeared the following year—”Love Is Gone”. The retirements of Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam in 1989 cleared the way for Cheung to take the lead role for male singers in Hong Kong. As he was being named one of the four kings in 1991, he released a megahit called “Love You a Little More Each Day”, a translated version of the Japanese Southern All Stars hit “Midsummer Fruit”.

On March 5th, 1993, Jacky Cheung released his fifth Mandarin album, entitled Goodbye Kiss. The title track is regarded by many as the second biggest Chinese pop song of all time after Teresa Deng’s “The Moon Represents My Heart”. (In 2004, Danish rock band Michael Learns to Rock released an English version of the song called “Take Me to Your Heart”.) Cheung’s Goodbye Kiss album sold five million copies, becoming the best-selling Chinese language album in history, a record that has yet to be broken. The success of the album prompted many Hong Kong singers to begin releasing Mandarin albums, realizing that, in doing so, they could reach a much larger market.

At the 1994 Billboard Music Awards in the United States, Jacky was declared the biggest singer in all of Asia. The following year he embarked on a record-breaking 100-show world-tour. He was given the Golden Needle Award by RTHK (lifetime-achievement recognition). In 2007, he broke his own record with a 105-show world tour in 58 cities.

Jacky Cheung has sold 60 million albums worldwide.

Andy Lau


Chinese Name: 刘德华
Cantonese Name: Lau Tak Wah
Mandarin Name: Liú Déhuá
(b. 1961 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

可不可以 “Would It Be Possible?”


Andy Lau grew up fetching water for his family several times a day because their house was not equipped with plumbing. When he was 20, he signed up for an artist training program put on by TVB and began acting in TV dramas. His good looks and exposure increased his popularity and he was soon taking on the lead roles in many television series. But in the late 80s, Lau left due to contract disputes. TVB wanted him to sign a five-year contract. He refused, so they blacklisted him making it difficult for him to find employment with other networks. He decided to focus on his film career. He has starred in some of China’s biggest movies.

Andy had released an album in 1985 but it was barely noticed. In 1990, he became a big name singer with the song “Would It Be Possible?” His singing career took off from there and he managed at least one song in the Top 10 Year-End charts (RTHK) in Hong Kong every year until 2006 (with the exception of 2004). His name appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Awards Won by a Cantopop Male Artist”. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick, Canada.

Lau is a big supporter of the Paralympic Games and practices Chinese calligraphy.

Leon Lai


Chinese Name: 黎明
Cantonese Name: Lai Ming
Mandarin Name: Lí Míng
(b. 1966 in Beijing, China)

Biggest Hits:


Leon Lai, whose name literally means “dawn”, was one of the first pop stars originally from Mainland China. He was born in Beijing and his parents divorced when he was four. With his Malaysian father, he migrated to Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution. When he was fifteen, he studied in England for two years. When he returned to Hong Kong, he became a salesman for a cell phone company.

After doing well in a singing contest, Capitol Records offered him a contract, but they delayed releasing an album from him for four years. As a result, he jumped ship to Polygram (now known as Universal Music). He released his first album Leon, but did not attain superstardom until his second release, Meeting in the Rain. Later, he began dabbling in electronic pop and became the first Chinese singer to enter the Top 10 in Korea. In 1999 he announced he would no longer accept any more awards in Hong Kong.

Aaron Kwok


Chinese Name: 郭富城
Cantonese Name: Kwok Fu Shing
Mandarin Name: Guō Fùchéng
(b. 1965. in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

我为何让你走 “Why did I Let You Go?”
Para Para Sakura
对你爱不完 “Loving You Forever”

After graduating from high school, Kwok worked for a jewellery company in the tradition of his family; however, in 1984, he took up dancing at TVB and was immediately recognized. He performed in a number of music videos and variety shows. He was then invited to play parts in various TV dramas. But it was a TV commercial he did for Honda motorcycles in 1990 that gained him popularity in Taiwan. This led to his releasing three Mandarin albums and his first hit was “Loving You Forever”. After his success on the island, he returned to Hong Kong to do Cantopop. His first big hit there was “Why Did I Let You Go?” Kwok has been the recipient of over a hundred music awards and has held over 200 concerts around the world. With his massive earnings, he has collected a number of sports cars.