rightThe "Four Pop Kings" of Hong Kong are Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau and Leon Lai. They were at their peak in the 1990s and all have both singing and acting careers.

Andy Lau is a singer and actor who was has sold over 20 million records as of 2000 (he sold 4.4 million records in 1999 alone) and has appear in as many a 12 movies in a single year. There was some talk that he was going to collaborate with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Leon Lai appeared in the critically-acclaimed film Comrades, Almost a Love Story.

Good Websites and Sources: Sinomania ; Chinese Popular Music Research ; Wikipedia article on C-Pop Wikipedia ; C-Pop English-language Commercial site ; Wikipedia article on Cantopop Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Mandopop Wikipedia ; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia and Zoom Movie ; Book about Chinese pop music: ”Like a Knife” by Andrew Jones. Links in this Website: CHINESE CLASSICAL MUSIC ; WESTERN CLASSICAL MUSIC ; LANG LANG, YO YO MA, CHINESE WESTERN CLASSICAL MUSICIAN ; CHINESE POP MUSIC ; CHINESE ROCK, PUNK AND HIP HOP ; CHINESE DANCE ; PEKING OPERA, CHINESE OPERA AND THEATER

Jacky Cheung

Jacky Cheung is the best selling Chinese singer in the world and the most popular singer in Asia. Know for his sentimental ballads, he recorded more than 40 albums between 1984 and 1997 and has sold more 25 million copies worldwide.

The son of a tailor, Cheung grew up in a 10-by-10-foot room in Hong Kong with his two sibling, while, he said, "the rest of the apartment was occupied by at least 15 of our relatives." Cheung worked as a computer clerk for a while. His big break came in 1984 when he beat out 10,000 other contestants in televised Chinese talent competition and won a recording contract with PolyGram records.

Cheung doesn't have classic demeanor of a Chinese pop idol. He is short (166 centimeters), has a big nose, is not considered handsome and doesn’t particularly like the limelight. Cheung told Time, "As a shy person, facing audience was a huge a challenge." He entered the talent contest that made him famous, he said, to overcome his stage fright. He also had a fear of dogs. To overcome that he locked himself in a room with a Great Dane for a few hours. In 1988-89 Cheung had a highly publicized run in with alcohol. After recovering he said he had no choice: "Didn't have any skills. It would not have been easy to start another career."

Cheung’s single, “Kiss Me Goodbye”, alone has had global sales of four million copies. He has also starred in more than 50 films, and all 42 performances of his musical “Snow Wolf Lake” sold out in 1997. Despite his singing talent, Cheung can't read music. "I sing with my senses, a very direct first impression about the music."

Fei Xiang


China's best selling pop singer of all time is Fei Xiang, a handsome half-American, half-Chinese crooner born in Taiwan to an American soldier stationed on Taiwan and a Chinese woman who left the mainland during the Communist Revolution. Fei became popular on the mainland after the release of his 1982 debut album Lingering, which sold millions of records. He is particularly adored by mainland teenage girls.

Fei is over six feet tall and has blue eyes, black hair and features, he says, that look American to people in China and Chinese to his American relatives in Pittsburgh. He grew up in Taiwan speaking Mandarin to his mother and English to his father. He attended Stanford University before going to Taiwan to become a singer.

After the Tiananmen Square Fei left China for New York, where he adopted the stage name Kris Phillips. Although he is one of the largest known entertainment figures in China, he was all but ignored in America. The extent of his singeing career there were appearances in the chorus of four Broadway productions, including “Miss Saigon”. Upon returning to China, Fei released an album of Broadway tunes sung in Mandarin.

Leslie Cheung


Leslie Cheung is a singer-actor known of his big ego. He stared in the Cannes-award-winning film “Farewell My Concubine” and his music has a large international following, particularly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. Although he was popular with young women he was openly gay and fond of wearing wigs and high heels. His longtime lover was a banker named Daffy Tong.

Cheung was born in Hong Kong in 1956. He became popular as a singer with a bad boy image in the 1980s. His most acclaimed film roles were playing gay men. Cheung played a homosexual opera singer who commits suicide in Farewell My Concubine. In Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together”, he played a gay man who moved to Argentina with his lover. He appeared in several Wong Kar-wai films and John Woo films. In his last film, Inner Senses, he plays man possessed by dead girlfriend who tries to convince him to leap to his death.

Cheung killed himself in April 2003 after leaping from the balcony outside the gym on the 24th floor of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. He was 46. Police found a suicide note on his body saying he had been troubled by “emotional problems” and “This year has been tough. I can’t take it any more.” Before he jumped, he sat on a stool on the balcony and ordered a glass of lemon water, cigarettes and an apple and asked for a paper and pen.


Faye Wong


Faye Wong is a charming, engaging and independently-minded singer. One music magazine proclaimed she was the most popular singer in the Chinese-speaking world. Richard Corliss of Time wrote, "Wong remains the spooky girl of Chinese music.” Her music “is a wondrous bled of Canto-pop and lollipop. Wong's approach alternates between a blissed-out whisper and bright pipings in a register so high only Pekingese pups can hear it."

Faye Wong has been called the “Queen of Mandopop.” Her hits have included “Easily Hurt Woman” , “The Red Bean”, and “I'm Willing and To Love”. Among her works that have been praised critics is the Buddhist-inspired, trip hop piece on her 2000 album “Fable”.

For almost two decades, Faye Wong's has won the adulation of tens of millions of fans with her feather-light, haunting vocals and rebellious yet innocent individualistic image. Her songs fall into a number of styles: Chinese ballads, classic American soul, rock'n'roll, New Age and rhythm and blues. She is also known for fusing Eastern musicalphilosophy with Western beats. “Her songs were of great inspiration every time I took an exam in my school days,” recalled singer Gigi Leung in an article on :Her song is always on my list at KTV. I can only describe her unique stage image.”

Wong is relatively tall (1.72 m) and lean. When she is not performing she sports jeans, a T-shirt and little makeup. Even after becoming a star she continued to live with her parents in a fashionable Hong Kong apartment. She is a very private person and says she would rather stay home and read a book on philosophy or play mah-jongg than go out partying.

Wong sings in Cantonese for her Hong Kong audience and Mandarins for her fans in China and Taiwan. She is not a big fan of the Hong Kong music scene. She prefers to record in her native Beijing. She is not a big fan of standard Canto-pop either. Her influences include individualist singers like Sinead O'Conner and Kate Bush.

Faye Wong's Life

20080303-Faye Wong, husband Li Yapeng and daughter Tung Tung China Vi.jpg
Faye Wong, husband Li Yapeng
and daughter Tung Tung

The daughter of a mining engineer father and a mother who sang in traveling revolutionary musical troupe, Wong was born in Beijing. She told Time that when she was growing up, "My dream varied. At one point I wanted to be a ticket vendor because I fancied the uniform." After her family moved to Hong Kong in 1987, she started taking music lesson because she was bored.

"As a mainland Chinese," she told Time, "I harbored the expectation of Hong Kong as a glamorous exciting place. After I arrived, I found it to be no big deal. I wasn't very happy because I couldn't speak Cantonese and had no friends."

After being introduced to a record company by her music teacher, the 20-year-old Wong began her career as a formulaic Cantopop singer named Shirley Wong. Her record company molded her into ballad-singing pixie and supplied her with ready-made songs. Even though she uncomfortable in that role thrust up on her she was good at it. Her first three CDs, recorded in less than three months, were big hits and she attracted large audiences at her concerts.

After her success as Shirley Wong, she left Hong Kong for New York. "I wandered around, visiting museums and sat at cafés," she told Time. "there were so many strange, confident-looking people. They didn't care what other people thought of them. I felt I was originally like that too, independent and a little rebellious. But in Hong Kong I lost myself. I was shaped by others and became like a machine, a dress hanger. I had no personality and no sense of direction."

Wong is known for her stormy love life. She has been married, had a child and divorced. Her second divorce with Beijing-based rocker Dou Wei, the lead singer in Black Panther, one of Chinese first successful Heavy Metal groups. was a big paparazzi event. Wong was cast as the jilted lover, Daou and his new girlfriend Gao Yuna were so besieged by the press they had to move three times. Wong was also linked with Nicolas Tse, the Cantopop bad boy who is 11 years here junior.

Faye Wong Forges Her Own Identity

After returning to Hong Kong she decided take matters into her own hands. Her next CD Coming Home showed her range and versatility. Her single The Woman Who Easily Gets Hurt won several awards. She then changed her name back to Faye. "Its really quite a miracle that she became a success," her manager said. "Faye does whatever she wants."

Wong has a reputation for being aloof with her fans and the media and skipping out of award ceremonies and high profile events. She rarely sings in front of choreographed dancers and laser lights like other Hong Kong performs. "She can mesmerize an audience of more than 8,000," a concert promoter said, "without being backed by a dozen dancers and tons of props. Very few artists can afford to do this." [Source: Andy Spaeth, Tim, October 14, 1996]

Wong doesn't really like to perform live either. "I don't have any choreography to go with my music so I don't know what to do with my hands," she told Time. "in a studio I can concentrate on perfecting the way I sing a song. On stage one has to worry about atmosphere and audience response. I find it distracting."

Faye Wong's Music and Films

20080303-Faye Wong in 2046_1.jpg
Faye Wong as a robot in the film 2046

Wong she has released 16 albums that have sold more than 7 million albums as of 1999.

Wong had released nine albums as of 2004 and has performed under the names Faye Wang, Fei Wang, Ching Man Wong, Fei Wong and Shirley Wong.

Wong is on contract to release one album a year. Sometimes this means she releases material she is not completely satisfied with because it not perfected to the point she would like.

Wong's 1996 CD “Restless” includes five song with unintelligible lyrics, two alternative rock tracks written and produced by Scotland's Cocteau Twins (she also contributed a song to their “Milk 'n Kisses” CD). Describing herself as restless, she once said, "You agitate to reach a certain kind of status quo. Once you achieve that, you agitate to change again. It's a never-ending process."

Wong has recorded songs in Japanese. Her song In the “Name of Love” was banned in China because the lyrics contained the word “opium" in them.

Wong's cute but devilish good looks have made her a natural for the screen. After a disappointing debut as the girlfriend of a rock star in Beyond's Diary, she earned good notices in her second movie, “Chungking Express”, as a waitress who longs to go to California and lives out her fantasy by listening to the Mamas and the Papas California Dreaming over and over. She won a best actress award in Sweden for her performance.

Wong won acclaim for over performance in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046. She won a best actress award in the Hong Kong awards for her performance in Chinese Odyssey 2002 and stared ib the 8th installment of the Final fantasy video game series.

Faye Wong’s Return

After five-year absence, Wong returned in 2010 in big way performing the title track for the epic film on Confucius, director by renowned Chinese filmmaker Hu Mei (Yongzheng Reign) and starring Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Zhou Xun (The Message). Titled “You Lan Cao”, the song features a strong Chinese style and melodious tune, lifted by Wong's lilting vocals. Consistingof only 64 Chinese characters, the lyrics have been adapted from Tang Dynasty literati Han Yu's eulogy on orchids, which commemorates the great philosopher Confucius. “The ethereal and sublime voice of Faye Wong bridges the beauty of the mortal world and heaven”---director Hu Mei said on Confucius' website. [Source: Xing Daiqi, Global Times]

Wong said t her decision to return to performing was due tothe film's subject matter. “The production Confucius is especially important in our age where negative information and attitudes prevail,” Wong commented on the website. “It reminds us of the power of faith and inner strength. I'm honored to be part of it and hope everyone can benefit from the film.”

In 2010, Wong announced a long-waited stahe comeback of sorts---a series of concerts in Beijing and Shanghai in October and November. Chinese newspapers ran the headline: “The Diva Is Back.”

Other Chinese Pop Singers

Other Cantonese singers include Sylvia Chang and Sandy Lam. Anita Mui, who became a star when she won a singing contest in 1982, died at the age of 40 in 2003. Jackie Chan was among those who kept vigil after her death.

Ai Jing is a mainland singer from Shenyang in northern China. She has worked with the famous American producer Phil Ramone. Her first album "My 1997" sold more than a million copies. Wang Lee Hom is a popular handsome somber based in Shanghai. He makes much of money from sponsorship deals. One nationally distributed bottle water company put his face on their products. He also has deals for marketing sunglasses, sports shoes, shampoo and clothing.

Popular Hong Kong pop stars include the teenage heart throb Easan Chin; the cute doe-eyed female singer Joey Ying; and the guitar-smashing rocker Nicholas Tse, who was found guilty of letting his driver take the rap when he crashed his Ferrari. Tse was romantically linked with Faye Wong for a while and did a tsunami relief concert with Yumiko Chang in Malaysia in 2005.

Artists regarded as superstars in 2011 were Sun Nan, Na Ying and Han Hong. The pop singer Li Yuchon won of the American-Idol-like “Super Girl” in 2005 with a “hip-hop-flavored, gender-bending” dance-and-song routine. Zhang Liangying is another competitor for the Super Girl competition that is now a pop star.

Two Chinese girls---Qian Lin from Zhejiang Province and Lui Chun from Hunan Province---were the first non-Japanese to join the all-girl pop group Morning Musume. Wang Lihon is a singer who was born in the United States and is popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Also popular in the mid 2000s were S.H.E. a female trio from traditionally and Zhung Dong Liung, a singer from Malaysia. F4 is a popular boys group from Taiwan featured in a number of TV shows.

Zang Tianshuo was named the most popular singer-songwriter in China at the 9th Chinese Music Award. In November 2008, he was arrested in connection with mob-related violence after the bar he owns near Beijing was investigated over several gang fights. One of the biggest Internet hits in 2007 was a song about investing in the stock market written by amateur songwriter Gong Kaijie. See Stock Market, Economics.

Migrant Worker Singing Duo

Xuriyanggang---a singing duo comprised of Wang Xu and Liu Gang, two migrant workers who live in Beijing---has been described by some critics as China's hottest grassroots duo. In 2011, the 44-year-old Wang Xu and 29-year-old Liu Gang moved tens of millions of viewers during the Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television (CCTV) recently with their rendition of the song “In The Spring”. [Source: Xu Lin. China Daily, January 14 and February 2, 2011]

“However, the popular performance is unlikely to be repeated because Chinese rock star Wang Feng, the original singer and composer of the song, has banned the pair from singing it in the future,” the China Daily reported. "The reason why I allowed them to sing my song at the beginning was to help them, but I have to stop it after finding out my kindness was being abused," said Wang Feng. He said on his blog that his company had suggested to Xuriyanggang on several occasions in the buildup to the Spring Festival Gala that they sing one of their own songs but he said they continued to use his song at various events, including commercial shows.

Xuriyanggang posted their apologies to Wang Feng on their micro blog and admitted they knew little about rules of the showbusiness. "No matter what, we both owe a debt of gratitude to teacher Wang Feng," wrote Liu. Wang Xu added: "We understand and respect Wang Feng's decision. We appreciate his help and encouragement to us in the past and feel sorry for all the trouble."

In 2010, Xuriyanggang was invited to appear as guest performers at one of Wang Feng's concerts in Shanghai, which helped them become more popular. According to Wang Rong, Wang Xu's temporary assistant, the appearance fee charged by Xuriyanggang has climbed to 50,000 yuan ($7,900) for a show since their performance at the Spring Festival Gala catapulted them to stardom.

Wang Feng's attitude in trying to keep the song he wrote for himself has created an online storm in China. Some netizens have described him as narrow-minded and selfish while others have said he is just protecting his rights. "I like both Wang Feng and Xuriyanggang. This is a win-win situation because it both protects Wang's great efforts and lets Xuriyanggang know that they should have their own songs," wrote a netizen using the name Zhuidix on a micro blog on

Rise of Migrant Worker Singing Duo

The two migrant workers began their rise to stardom after singing the tearjerker during an evening drinking session in a 6-square-meter rented room. A friend recorded them singing on a mobile phone and uploaded it to the Internet where netizens praised their singing and made them online sensations. In the video, the duo are shirtless and sweating. Liu sits playing the guitar, and Wang stands singing. Celebrities such as musician Xiao Ke and Hong Kong singer Charlene Choi recommended the video on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. [Source: Xu Lin. China Daily, January 14 and February 2, 2011]

Before that Wang and Liu were just two common migrant workers, who played music in the national capital's subways at night to make some extra cash. Wang hails from the central Henan province, and Liu, is a native of Northeast China's Heilongjiang province. Liu came to Beijing in 2002, two years after he ended his military service. He had worked as a guard, roadside peddler, and porter. Busking was his main income, even after he married and became a father three years ago. "Normally, I can make 30 to 80 yuan (US$4.5 to US$12) in an evening, and more than 100 on my best day," Liu said. He recalls tougher times when he had to sell his aluminum pan for 2 yuan, to buy four mantou, or Chinese steamed buns, to eat. [Ibid]

To support his wife and two sons, Wang came to Beijing in 2000 and worked as a boiler man and street peddler before becoming a medical warehouse keeper, with a monthly pay of around 1,500 yuan (US$227). In September 2003, Wang started busking downtown Beijing's pedestrian underpasses at weekends or evenings. "I love music, and also want to earn some money to meet my daily needs," Wang told Xinhua News Agency. [Ibid]

It was in 2005 that Wang first saw Liu singing in a subway passage and asked when he would finish so he could do his gig. Liu told Wang that he would have to wait a little longer because another street singer was waiting for his turn. "I was upset and decided that I would make it to the subway earlier the next day to take the spot," Wang said. The two bumped into each other again and again in the same subway until they decided to merge their talents. Besides performing in subways, the duo also tried performing in bars, but "felt very restrained", as they had to perform requested numbers. [Ibid]

In his blog Wang has appealed to the public to be more understanding of migrant workers. "Please don't look down upon migrant workers, who may be less educated, but are kindhearted."Unlike in the West, street artists are considered mere beggars in China. Some passers-by cover their ears, some stare in contempt while others take aim at the singers with coins, Wang said. [Ibid]

Chinese Copy Korean Pop Look and Sound

Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, “As if Korean pop stars do not have enough competition from their own countrymen in the crowded entertainment industry, they now have to contend with Mandopop singers who are copying their look and sound.”More and more Taiwan-based stars are repackaging themselves in the mold of their Korean counterparts---singing fast infectious tunes with sleek dance moves complete with more adventurous styling. [Source: Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, May 2, 2011]

“Korean acts are known for their sleek dance moves and interesting choreography. Sending our artists to train there helps achieve something that is out of the box for the Chinese music industry.” He cites as examples the “hot and highly synchronized dance moves complete with trademark movements of Brown Eyed Girls' “Abracadabra” and Super Junior's “Sorry Sorry.” Derek Shih, marketing director of HIM International Music, agrees that Korean dance moves are outstanding, “which is why we decided to tap on their skills and professionalism to come up with the dance moves for our new boy band, Sigma.”

The catchy tunes sung by Korean acts with insidiously repetitive phrases and use of unusual lingo have also found their way into, for instance, Taiwanese boy band Lollipop F's song “Four Dimensions (2010),” which repeats the words “Crazy! Go crazy! Go crazy!” in its chorus. It is common to find a word or phrase being repeated many times in the chorus of a Korean pop song. The entire chorus of T-ara's hit “Bo Peep Bo Peep” consists of “Bo peep bo peep,” while boy band Super Junior's famous song “Sorry Sorry” has them repeating the words over and over again. Besides that, the adventurous and unconventional styling of Korean acts---such as the bold use of eyeliner, daring hairstyles and an androgynous image---is also another distinctive factor.

Fans do not mind the K-pop imitation, saying that incorporating K-pop elements can raise the standard of Chinese pop.Student Jaslyn Tan, 19, says: “Korean pop groups are very well-trained and they seldom make mistakes during performances. It is great that Chinese pop acts are taking a leaf out of their books.” Marketing manager Cindy Lin, 23, adds: “I am all for improving the standard of Chinese pop. However, the industry may end up being saturated with too many Taiwanese artists sporting Korean styles.”

Chinese Artists Riding the K-Pop Wave

The record labels of Taiwanese boy band Sigma and Singapore talents Derrick Hoh and Jocie Guo sent them to Korea to learn from dance choreographers for their new albums. Hoh also sought the expertise of Korean boy band Shinee's stylist for his second album Change, released this year. In addition, Taiwanese artists are also collaborating with Korean stars to incorporate Korean pop elements into their songs. Wilber Pan recruited Nichkhun from Korean boy band 2PM to feature in his new song, Drive, from his newly released album, 808.Danson Tang worked with Amber from Korean girl group f(x) for his song “I'm Back,” released last year. [Source: Jocelyn Lee, The Straits Times, May 2, 2011]

Industry insiders admit they are riding on the surge of the Korean pop wave. James Kang, marketing director of Warner Music, which manages Hoh and Guo, says: “Taiwan has long been the place that Chinese artists go to for their training. However, over the years, we have seen increasingly similar dance moves in the hordes of artists that emerge from there every year. Therefore, training in Korea injects fresh elements into Derrick and Jocie's appeal.

For their self-titled debut album, released late last year, Sigma, which comprises Judy Chou, Mrtting Li and Tommy Lin, flew to Korea to learn from a dance choreographer who had worked with the likes of superstar Rain and girl group Wonder Girls.

Chou says in Mandarin: “The training was not easy and we practiced really hard. It is great that we get to learn from a top-notch teacher. Korean acts have very polished and sleek dance moves and we hope to be like them. We aim to be just like Korean boy band Big Bang. They can sing and dance well and are multi-talented.”

Image Sources: YouTube, Fan blogs and websites

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2011

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