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 Pop Music in the 1970s

The 1970s saw the spawning of Chinese pop music. Before the Sensational Seventies, most Chinese music consisted of traditional folk melodies, Chinese opera, and Shanghai nightclub jazz. Many of the early Chinese singers began by singing English pop hits. Then they would translate into or re-write the lyrics in Mandarin or Cantonese and perform Chinese versions of such hits. This was especially true of the band boy band Wynners. Later on artists began composing original songs but, especially in Hong Kong, these were usually theme songs of TV series.

One of the first singers of the modern era was versatile Paula Tsui who debuted at the turn of the decade. But for all intents and purposes, 1974 saw the real birth of Cantonese pop as most of the big singers and songs emerged that year. Roman Tam is credited with being the Godfather of Cantopop and often performed duets with Macau-born Jenny Ceng, the two becoming known as the “Dynamic Duo”. Jenny was already a household name in China with such Mandarin hits as “Plum Blossom”. Adam Cheng often teamed up with Liza Wang, two more big names in Hong Kong. Sam Hui made Cantonese pop music sound more modern as he brought western rock ‘n roll influences and Cantonese street slang into his songs. At the end of the decade, China had its first heart-throb—Danny Chan. 1979 also saw two Taiwanese singers emerge and add extra weight to Mandarin pop. They were Qi Yu (“The Olive Tree”) and Fei Yuqing (“Good Night Song”). Other popular singers in the 70s were Michael Kwan and Teresa Cheung.

But, it was another one named Teresa who emerged before any of them Her soothing, sweet voice, her girl-next-door image, her impeccable command of Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Japanese, and Taiwanese all helped to propel her to become the most beloved Chinese singer of all-time. And her name is Teresa Deng.

Teresa Deng

Chinese Name: 邓丽君
Mandarin Name: Dèng Lìjūn
(1953-1995, born in Yunlin, Taiwan)

Biggest Hits:

月亮代表我的心 “The Moon Represents My Heart” (The most famous Chinese pop song of all-time)
我只在乎你 “I Only Care about You”
甜蜜蜜 “Sweet”

Prior to this classy lady, most Chinese music is what we might consider traditional Chinese folk music. Modern pop music really began to sweep the Chinese world with the advent of Teresa Deng Li Jun, though, after listening to her songs, we would probably consider it a far cry from modern rock. In light of the history of musical styles, she bridges the gap between Chinese folk music and modern pop music, providing a mellow adult-oriented vocal approach—think of Barbara Streisand. Deng, whose name is often misspelled as Teng, is regarded as the greatest singing star in all Chinese history.

Teresa Deng was born in a the village of Tienyang, in Yunlin County, Taiwan to a mainlander family originating from Hebei province. She actually started her singing career in the late 1960s. In 1968, she gained fame by performing on a popular music TV show in Taiwan. By the 1970s, she had already released eight albums! In 1973, she attempted to break into the Japanese market by partaking in a singing competition among the best artists of the year. She won the “Best New Singing Star” award. The following year, she conquered Japan with the song “Airport”. After taking over the Chinese and Japanese markets, Deng went on to triumph in Malaysia and then Indonesia. Her song “Goodbye My Love” was translated into the Indonesian language and Deng sung it in a 1977 release.

In 1983, Teresa released her most-acclaimed album, Light Exquisite Feeling. It contained a dozen renowned Chinese Tang and Song Dynasty poems set to music for the first time. Despite the fact that Mainland Chinese authorities had branded most modern music as “decadent”, Teresa Deng’s songs became so popular in Chinese karaoke bars that, in 1986, they bypassed the censorship, and the saying sprung up, “By day, Deng Xiaoping rules China, but by night, Deng Lijun rules.” But Teresa never performed in Mainland China. She held seven consecutive concerts in Hong Kong, breaking the record at that time. She was the first Chinese artist to perform at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, U.S.A.

This Taiwanese songstress died an untimely death from an asthma attack while in Thailand in 1995 and the entire Chinese world mourned like nobody’s business. She was given a state funeral attended by the Taiwanese leader. Her song “The Moon Represents My Heart” is considered by many the greatest Chinese pop song in all history. From Teresa’s rocketing to superstardom, the path was now clear for many more Chinese pop stars to arise.

Roman Tam

Chinese Name: 罗文
Mandarin Name: Luó Wén
Cantonese Name: Lo Man
(1950-2002, born in Guangzhou)

Biggest Hits:

小李飞刀 “Romantic Swordsman”
好歌献给你
亲情 “Family”
红棉 “Cotton Tree”
世間始終你好 (with Jenny Ceng)
几许风雨
万里长城永不倒 “The Great Wall Never Fell”
铁血丹心 “Iron Blood, Innocent Heart” (often sung with Jenny Ceng)
狮子山下 “Below the Lion Rock”

Flamboyant Roman Tam (Luo Wen) is regarded as the godfather of Cantopop. Though born in Guangzhou, he emigrated to Hong Kong in 1962 when he was 12 years old working as a tailor and banker. He formed a short-lived band, in 1967, called Roman and the Four Steps which performed Cantonese versions of English songs. He then became a contract studio singer and began, in 1974, to sing theme songs for TV series which made him a household name, especially “Iron Blood, Innocent Heart” and “Below the Lion Rock”. After a string of hits in the 70s and 80s, some of which were duets with his dearest friend Jenny Ceng, he began training new singers, including Joey Yung.

Roman never married and died in 2002 from liver cancer.

Jenny Ceng

Chinese Name: 甄妮
Mandarin Name: Zhēn Nī
Cantonese Name: Jan Nei
(b. 1953 in Macau)

Biggest Hits:

鲁冰花
海上花
铁血丹心 “Iron Blood, Innocent Heart” (often sung with Roman Tam)
明日話今天
春雨彎刀
东方明珠系
再度孤獨 “Alone Again”
世间始终你好 (with Roman Tam)

Jenny Ceng is a “mixed-blood” beauty, her father being Austrian and her mother Chinese. She was born in Macau but after fame came held Hong Kong as her home base. She is one of the first singers to have huge hits in both Mandarin and Cantonese and was considered the only diva to come anywhere near rivalling Teresa Deng. Ceng’s kung fu movie star husband died in a car accident in 1983. Four years later she gave birth to a daughter but refused to reveal her father’s identity to the press. She now tends an organic farm in Taiwan.

Paula Tsui

Chinese Name: 徐小凤
Mandarin Name: Xú Xiăofèng
Cantonese Name: Ceoi Siufung
(b. 1949 in Wuhan)

Biggest Hits:

风雨同路 “Mutual Support”
随想曲
星星问 “Shining Stars”
顺流、逆流
每一步 “Each Step”
别亦难

Paula’s singing career began in the late 60s when she won first prize in a singing contest out of 2000 contestants. She released her first EP in 1969 and her first full-length album in 1971. She has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the most single event concerts in a continuous period (43 in 37 days). She became known for her versatility, switching easily from Chinese opera, to folk, to love ballads, to modern rock, to TV theme songs. She released her last album in 1991.

Sam Hui

Chinese Name: 许冠杰
Mandarin Name: Xǔ Guànjié
Cantonese Name: Heoi Gungit
(b. 1948 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

卖身契 “The Contract”
加价热潮 (Cantonese Cover of “Rock Around the Clock”)
印象 “Impression”
沉默是金 “Silence is Golden” (with Leslie Cheung)
最緊要好玩
心思思
沧海一声笑
半斤八两 “Private Eyes”

After studying at university, Sam Hui joined the entertainment industry with his brothers. They hosted a youth music show on TVB, and he wrote the theme songs for television comedies produced by his brother Michael. Sam also became lead singer in the band The Lotus. He was heavily influenced by western-style pop and became Hong Kong’s first rock ‘n roll superstar. He released an English-language album in 1971 and his first Cantonese in ’74. His “Private Eyes” was a huge hit in the mid-70s and he began incorporating Hong Kong street slang into his song lyrics which appealed especially to the working class.

Hui announced his retirement in the late 90s but was greatly affected by the deaths of Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung, prompting him to come out of retirement and write his comeback song “Bless You” in 2004.

Danny Chan

Chinese Name: 陈百强
Mandarin Name: Chén Băi Qiáng
Cantonese Name: Chan Baak-koeng
(b. 1958 in Hong Kong)

Biggest Hits:

眼泪为你流 “Tears for You”
涟漪 “Ripple”
偏偏喜欢你 “I Just Love You”
摘星 “Reaching for the Stars”
凝望
我的故事 “My Story”
烟雨凄迷
一生何求 “What One Wants in Life”

At the end of the decade, Hong Kong was caught up in Danny Chan teen-heart-throb fever with his debut release “Tears for You”. Danny had won third place in a singing competition in 1977 and began acting in a TV drama called “Sweet Babe”. He released his first album First Love in 1979. He became a huge name in Shanghai in 1989 with his “What One Wants in Life” and held his farewell concert there in 1992 as he had announced his retirement from the music industry. Part of this may have been due to unfair (and untrue) statements made in the press that his career was lagging behind contemporaries Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam. And rumours were spread that he was suffering from substance abuse. On 18 May 1992, Chan was found unconscious and was admitted into the hospital. Doctors found him in a coma and he died 17 months later. The true cause of death was either never determined or never revealed to the public.

Fei Yuqing

 

Chinese Name: 费玉清
Mandarin Name: Fèi Yùqīng
(b. 1955 in Taibei)

Biggest Hits:

晚安曲 “Good Night Song”
一剪梅 “Plum Blossom”
春天里
梦驼铃
凤凰于飞
一生的朋友
千里之外 “Thousands of Miles Away” (with Jay Zhou)

Taiwanese sensation, singer-songwriter, Fei Yuqing, debuted in 1979, after entering a singing contest, with his hit “Good Night Song”. In 1983, “Plum Blossom” was so popular that it made headways in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong. Like Teresa Deng, he was more in the category of adult contemporary or pop vocal and became known as the golden voice king. Fei won over the media with his humility, sincerity, and sense of humour. He sang theme songs for television shows which were often more popular than the shows themselves. His popularity remains, as in recent years he appeared in Jay Zhou’s smash hit “Thousands of Miles Away”. Fei never married and spent his leisure time raising three puppies.

Qi Yu

 

Chinese Name: 齐豫
Mandarin Name: Qí Yù
(b. 1958 in Taizhong, Taiwan)

Biggest Hits:

橄榄树 “The Olive Tree”
大悲咒
般若波罗蜜多心经
梵音大悲咒
船歌
清净法身佛
梦田

In 1979, Qi Yu released “The Olive Tree” which became a classic. In description of her voice, she earned the nickname “soothing”. She attended university in the United States and mastered the English language. Her song “Smile” won an award for best film theme song. In 1987, Qi went to Singapore to record her first English album, Stories. It was a sensation in Taiwan, not only for its brilliant music but her impeccable English pronunciation: no accent whatsoever. The album also made the charts in Hong Kong. At the end of the 80s, she appeared with her brother Qi Qin in the “Angel and Wolf” concert attracting a crowd of 20,000. This became the first large-scale concert in Taiwan.