Taiwanese Pop Songs History ( version)

(written by Tsai Wen-ting, photos courtesy of Cheng Heng-lung, translated by Glenn Smith and David Mayer)
Original article was published in Sinorama May, 2002 issue (original script is here).  
This webpage with hyperlinks was created by Vincent Tzeng


Chun-chun, Au Hsiu, Ai-ai, and Ah Yeh (from right) constituted the first generation of stars of Taiwanese pop music. Chun-chun's hits included "Embracing the Spring Breeze" and "Rainy Night Flower." (courtesy of Chuang Yung-ming)

An early pop single record. (courtesy of Chuang Yung-ming)

Perhaps you've sat alone on a spring evening and found yourself humming the words of the old Taiwanese song, "Embrace the Spring Breeze": 

"She sits alone under the lamp, the breeze in her face. 
Sixteen or 17 and yet unwed, she waits for a boy. 
He is handsome, and of fair complexion. 
Who knows which family he is from? 
Shyly, she longs to ask, and her heart pitter-patters."

Written in 1933 by lyricist Li Lin-chiu and composer Teng Yu-hsien, "Embrace the Spring Breeze" is a Taiwanese classic. It just "turned 70" this year, so to speak (if you count age the Taiwanese way). Likewise, "White Peony" and "Saying Farewell by the Harbor" are in their sixties, and even the relatively modern "Unrequited Love" and "If I Opened My Heart" would be in their forties.

It is often said, "If you want to understand the events of an era, then listen to the lyrics of the time." Passed down and sung from generation to generation, Taiwanese pop songs bear witness to the island's social evolution, and describe the happiness and sadness of everyday life. They are thus a repository of the collective experience of the Taiwanese people.

To trace the origins of Taiwanese pop music, the place to start is 1932, the thirty-seventh year of Japan's colonial rule over Taiwan. Holding birth certificates issued by the Japanese Imperial Governor-General of Taiwan, and educated in Japanese-language schools, middle-aged Taiwanese launched with zeal into discussions of the Cultural Enlightenment Movement and other new influences from abroad. There was no such thing as television back then, and even phonographs and radios were not yet in wide use. But the recorded music of the time included Western classical music and Japanese songs, as well as the Peking opera, nan guan, bei guan and Taiwanese opera enjoyed by everyday people.



(courtesy of Tsai Kuo-lung)

Taiwan's first hit single

In the thirties, the movie industry was still in the era of silent films. Theaters employed 'interpreters'-certified professionals who narrated the movies as they were projected before audiences. In 1932, the Shanghai production The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood debuted in Taiwan. To attract audiences, the film distributors enlisted the help of the best 'interpreter' of Taipei's then-bustling commercial district known as Tataocheng. This man, Chan Tien-ma, wrote lyrics based on the movie while composer Wang Yun-feng created a score. The result was the likenamed song, "The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood," used to promote the film. During the film's run, bands assembled everyday in the area around Tataocheng's Yenping North Road to perform. Later, as the film toured the island, the theme song, performed in the seven-character verse of traditional Taiwanese opera, in no time became a musical sensation.

This gave Seijiro Kashiwano, the Taiwan manager of Columbia Record Company, an idea. Traditional Taiwanese music could be marketed to the mainstream and pushed beyond the limits of the genre. "The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood" was recorded and became a smash hit. Taipei's population was then only 200,000, but the record sold in the tens of thousands. "'The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood' was the first Taiwanese song to achieve a broad popularity," said Chuang Yung-ming, a folk arts scholar who has published more than 40 books on Taiwan. The period from 1932 to 1940, which marked the beginning of the Kominka Movement (or "Japanization Movement," in which Japan granted Japanese citizenship to the Taiwanese and sought to turn them into loyal subjects of the emperor), is remembered as a golden era of Taiwanese music.



Hung Yi-feng (second from left), the king of baritone pop. The photo shows him in the drama, "When Will We Meet Again," in which he played the lead.

Reaching the mainstream

Following the popularity of "The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood," Kawano took a good look at the Taiwan music market. He recruited Chen Chun-yueh, a leading proponent of the May 4th-inspired New Literature Movement, and put him in charge of a division devoted to this emerging musical genre.

Chen's strategy was simple: recruit the best composers and lyricists, and sign them with his record label. His hires included: "Embrace the Spring Breeze" composer Teng Yu-hsien, a graduate of the Taipei City Teachers College; "Sigh without Alternatives" composer Yao Tsan-fu, of the Taiwan Theological Seminary; and nakashi performer Su Tung, an accomplished yang qin performer, who composed "Days of Spring" and "Youth Mountain." Lyricists included Chen Chun-yueh ("Time for Dancing"), Li Lin-chiu ("Embrace the Spring Breeze," "Colorful Seasons"), Chou Tien-wang ("Rainy Night Flower, "Moonlit Sadness"), Wu Te-ying, a gifted vocalist and lyricist; Liao Han-chen, a leader of the New Literature Movement; Lin Ching-yueh, a physician turned vocalist; and many more. Selected to sing "The Peach Blossom Weeps Blood" was Chun-chun, who became Taiwan's first female pop star. Lin Shih-hao and Ai-ai, stage-named the Black Cat, were another pair of popular vocalists. The majority of Taiwan's best singers joined the Columbia label, and a glorious chapter in the island's music history unfolded.

In 1933, Columbia Records released a series of singles on 78s. Among them were Chun-chun's renditions of "Embrace the Spring Breeze" and "Moonlit Sadness" and Lin Shih-hao's "String Melody." Li Lin-chiu, recalling the era shortly before his death, said Seijiro Kashiwano was an original thinker and unique in that he encouraged his artists to create work with a strong 'Taiwanese' flavor. Kashiwano insisted that every recording shine, and decades later the music is still fresh and engaging.

Li Lin-chiu was the lyricist of "Embrace the Spring Breeze." He was well-educated as a youth, but after his family suffered a reversal of fortune, he become a waiter at a theater. Once, when the famous interpreter Chan Tien-ma couldn't pronounce a word in the subtitles of a film being projected, Li Lin-chiu saved the day by whispering it under his breath. After that incident, Chan Tien-ma, now appreciating the depth of Li's literary skills, promoted him to editor of the films' scripts and narratives.

Thoroughly versed in the Chinese classics, Li at age 25 received a flash of inspiration when he remembered a line from "Romance of the West Chamber," a work of classical literature: "The shadows of flowers cast against the wall moved, and I thought my lover had arrived." This served as his inspiration for the lyrics to the song, "Embrace the Spring Breeze": "I heard the sound of someone outside, and opened the door to check. The moon laughed at me. I had been deceived by the wind." In these lines, Li expressed the feelings of a shy, young girl.



These lyricists, songwriters, and singers wrote a glorious page in the history of Taiwanese pop, and created a legacy that has been passed on from generation to generation.
Chun-chun, who sang "Embracing the Spring Breeze"

Champions of New Literature

In 1935, the Lins, a wealthy clan in Panchiao, were appointed as the Taiwan agent of Victory Records, and entered the fray of the highly competitive music industry, pushing Taiwanese music to new heights.

Victory Records invited Chang Fu-hsing, a graduate of Japan's most prestigious music school, Ueno School of Music in Tokyo, to head its literary division. Chang was the first Taiwanese musician to study Western music in Japan, and he would later be known as the 'Father of New Music' in Taiwan. Under his direction, Victory Records signed up the talented Chen Ta-ju, aged 19, who immediately turned out one wonderful song after another, including "Shadow of Two Swallows," "Youth Mountain," "Heartache," "Drinking to Sadness," "White Peony," "Days of Spring," "Three Roads," and "Setting Sail" among others. Before long, Victory Records was on a par with Columbia.

Later generations are amazed at the high quality of Taiwanese pop songs created during the Japanese occupation. How did they come to create so many classic works during that short period of ten years? Chuang Yung-ming said both the quantity and quality of the songs were high, and attributed it to the involvement of the literary community.

Non-violent resistance to the Japanese was suppressed. Ambitious young people faced limited opportunities, but they could express themselves in music. Said Chuang: "Take Chen Chun-yueh, Liao Han-chen, and Huang Te-shih. They were active in the new literary cliques, and in the publishing of literary magazines, all of which were dependent on the support of a handful of record companies for their survival."

As for the melodies, the late musicologist Hsu Chang-hui said the creators of Taiwanese songs of that time came from many levels of the music world. Some were self taught, though deeply versed in folk traditions. Others were trained in the musical forms of the church, and yet others came from music academies and had backgrounds in Western music. When these groups came together, they ushered forth a golden age of Taiwanese song.



Chou Tien-wang, lyricist for "Rainy Night Flower" Chen chiu-lin, composer for "White Peony"

The first prohibited song

Besides love songs, the music scene offered two alternative undercurrents. Huang Te-shih, who studied literature and music at Taihoku Imperial University (present-day National Taiwan University), composed the song, "Beautiful Island": "Look . .. one, two three. The water buffalo grazes on the banks. The egrets keep him company, perched on his back, gazing at the distant mountains. Beautiful Island. Beautiful Island. My Taiwan!" When Taiwanese students in Japan were evacuated from Tokyo after the Allied Forces began bombing Japan, the Taiwanese students sang the lyrics of Huang's song in their temporary dormitories.

"Unemployed Brothers" described deteriorating social conditions, and was popular immediately after its release in 1934. "The economy gets worse by the day, and my feelings sink along with it. The boss isn't making money, and now we're laid off. Ai-yo! Ai-yo! We're brothers with no road to follow. It's not because our fate is cruel. So hating the gods is unfair. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Ai-yo! Ai-yo! We're brothers with no road to follow. There is no choice but to persist. You must find what work you can. During the day we wander, and at night we sleep in the road. Ai-yo! Ai-yo! We're brothers with no road to follow."

The song met with critical acclaim, and sales were brisk, but its biting edge prompted the Japanese colonial authorities to ban it, a harbinger of things to come for the Taiwanese music industry.



Hsu Shih, composer for "Remembering Anping."

Wartime variations

In 1937, Japan launched a military assault upon the Chinese mainland in the wake of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Taiwan's Governor-General ordered a stop to Chinese-language columns in newspapers, and songwriters came under restrictions. Soon only a handful of composers and lyricists remained, and the industry paled in comparison to its former glory days. One notable exception was the energetic and creative Chen Ta-ju, who wrote "Farm Village," "Spring Colors Fill the Mountains," "I Don't Know!," "Saying Farewell by the Harbor" and other excellent compositions.

To carry out its foolish plans for a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan began recruiting Taiwanese men as army coolies in 1941. Popular Taiwanese songs were re-dubbed with Japanese lyrics for use as propaganda. "Embracing the Spring Breeze" became "Call of the Earth." "Moonlit Sadness" reappeared as "Soldier's Wife." "Flowers on a Stormy Night" became "Soldier's Honor." Its lyrics now read: "Red ribbons, soldier's honor. How exciting, Japanese men. Devoted to the Emperor. My life for my country, ready for sacrifice."

Shortly after the start of the Japanization Movement in 1941, World War II broke out. Later in the war there were daily air raids as Allied Forces bombed the island. Missing his wife and newborn baby, both of whom were taking shelter in Tainan, Lu Chuan-sheng wrote "Rock the Baby," which scholars consider an unforgettable "coda" marking the end of the first golden age of Taiwanese pop music.



Chen Ta-ju, lyricist for "White Peony"
Yang San-lang, composer for "Come Home Soon"

The "big four" post-war songs

After China's Nationalist government moved to Taiwan in 1949, the specter of war gradually faded. The Japanization movement was just a memory, and the Nationalist government's policy of suppressing the Taiwanese language was yet to be introduced. A second golden age of Taiwanese pop music ensued.

Old hands took up the pen once again, and a new generation joined the fun, including Yang San-lang, Chang Chiu Tung-sung, Lu Chuan-sheng, Wang Chang-hsiung, Hsu Shih, and Hung Yi-feng. Four songs that came out at this time struck a chord with the public: "Come Home Soon," "Mending the Net, "Hot Rice Dumplings, and "Drink it All Down." Chuang Yung-ming calls these "the big four post-war songs."

"Come Home Soon" (lyrics by the "drummer king" Nakano; music by horn player Yang San-lang) created a sensation with its lament of a heartbroken girl, and resonated with the mood of a people who had just been through the war and remembered well the feeling of wondering when and whether their husbands, sons, and brothers would ever come marching back from war. Guitarist Cheng Heng-lung feels that even though Yang San-lang studied music in Japan, his melodies don't carry the slightest hint of Japanese influence.

The following year, veteran songwriters Li Lin-chiu and Wang Yun-feng released "Mending the Net." The tune later was chosen as the theme song of a movie with a similar title, but trouble arose when the authorities banned the song because they considered it too negative. Li had to add a cheery line to the end of the song so the movie could play at theaters.

Chang Chiu Tung-sung, a school teacher, had a special knack for describing everyday people and situations. After achieving fame with "Old Glass Bottles," late one night while correcting students' papers he heard a street vendor roaming the neighborhood crying out "hot rice dumplings!" It inspired him to write "Hot Rice Dumplings." Some years later, in the 1960s, the song became wildly popular after it was sung in a television drama. The performer was Kuo Chin-fa, a singer with a wide vocal range. W.

earing a conical peasant hat, pushing a bicycle, and carrying a string of hot steamed rice dumplings, he had an unmistakably "Taiwanese" air about him. "Hot Rice Dumplings" became Kuo's signature song.

Lu Chuan-sheng authored the words and music for "Drink It All Down," a song with trenchant lyrics and an artistic melody. It expresses Lu's desire for brotherhood after the February 28th massacre of 1947. The song is a favorite of singing groups even today.

Lu, who before the massacre was working at a radio station, had got along very well with his mainlander co-workers. Little did he expect that so many people would soon be killed and maimed in the February 28th Incident. He took up his pen and wrote "Drink It All Down" to express his idea that when people from different ethnic or social groups have differences, they should discuss them openly to avoid misunderstandings.



Lu Chuan-sheng, lyricist and composer for "Drink It All Down"
Yeh Chun-lin, lyricist for "Old Feelings"

Taking it to the street

With the economy in tatters during the early post-war years, many committed artists took to performing at temples and traffic circles to support themselves and their families. Some played from scores that they had printed themselves using their own handmade woodblock cuts. It was a creative new way to get one's music out to the public. Many was the musician who developed into a jack-of-all-trades, writing lyrics, composing music, and performing. Foremost among them was Hung Yi-feng.

Hung Yi-feng, whose deep, resonant voice propelled him to the top of the charts, explains what pushed him and others to these lengths: "The Taiwanese pop industry wasn't very developed. We had to rely on ourselves." The multi-talented Hung, who played the violin, guitar, and accordion, was just 20 when he went professional. When he played the fast-tempoed "Peach Town," audiences would break into smiles. When he played the dolorous "Path in a Nighttime Park ," audiences broke into tears.

Hung recalls fondly the days he spent performing on the streets: "To be up there face to face with the audience, and to see them react to my songs, was the happiest feeling in the world." Some of Taiwan's best music was being made at Taipei Traffic Circle on Chunking North Road. On any given night you might find Yang San-lang playing the horn, or Su Tung on the yang qin. Also, itinerant peddlers also helped popularize Taiwanese pop tunes by singing them wherever they went.



Hung Yi-feng 

Chen Fen-lan, singer of "A Country Girl's Wish" (courtesy of Yuanliou Publishing)

Age of the superstars

Needless to say, listening to the radio was one the most popular forms of entertainment back in those days.

Regular radio programs were usually a simple matter of a disc jockey playing records over the air, but Hung Yi-feng would march into radio stations with musicians and singers to play live into the microphones. Superstar Chi Lu-hsia broke into the business in 1955 at age 19 and also sang at various radio stations, taking part in many of Hung's programs. She eventually recorded nearly 2,000 songs, incluing 80% of the theme songs of all Taiwanese-language movies during her heyday. She also did commercial jingles, including witty numbers for Salonpas and Starwan soysauce. She once recorded 21 songs in a single day.

The average white-collar salary was NT$400 per month, while Chi made NT$100 per song. But fame and fortune never really got under her skin; in 1961 she married an Air Force officer and left it all behind, much to her fans' regret.

After Chi Lu-hsia departed the scene, a prodigiously talented child star named Chen Fen-lan appeared. A participant in singing competitions from the age of eight, young Fen-lan left audiences deeply moved with lyrics that described the common man's experiences. Hung Yi-feng's "Hilltop Hunk" and Wen Hsia's "Hometown in Twilight" played all the time on the radio. They can still be heard today, in fact, but they're not purely Taiwanese. The lyrics are Taiwanese, but the songs are actually just localized versions of older Japanese songs. Says Chuang Yung-ming: "Some students of music say things like, 'Now I'm going to play a Taiwanese tune called "Hometown in Twilight,"' but they're not being accurate."

Record companies liked to make adaptations mainly because production costs were cheaper. And with 50 years of Japanese colonial rule having only recently come to an end, many people in Taiwan still had Japanese melodies in their heads. Adaptations began pouring onto the market in the mid-1950s and came to dominate the small Taiwanese pop market.



Kuo Chin-fa, singer of "Hot Rice Dumplings," (courtesy of Kuo Chin-fa)

Adaptations rule the roost

There were two kings of the adapted music genre back then. One was Yeh Chun-lin. The other was superstar singer Wen Hsia, who went by the pen name of Melancholy Man. The late Yeh Chun-lin once told an interviewer that he had probably adapted at least 6,000 Japanese tunes, and that he could turn out eight in a day.

Many of Wen Hsia's adaptations told stories about young girls. He started out writing about country girls, but times changed, and eventually his country girls (gu niang) turned into city girls (xiao jie). He also sang all sorts of songs about men working on ships.

Chuang Yung-ming regrets those days when adapted songs poured out so quickly and cheaply. It was a matter of "bad currency chasing out the good," says Chuang, who says that many outstanding Taiwanese songwriters who wrote their own music were crowded from the market by the ready-made Japanese tunes, and ended up taking up other careers.

Chen Ta-ju, who achieved fame during the Japanese occupation for his "White Peony," later became a manager at Wei Chuan Corporation. Wu Cheng-chia, author of the autobiographical "Saying Farewell by the Harbor," switched to operating coal mines. Lu Chuan-tzu, author of "Harbor Rain," opened a shop selling clocks and watches. Yang San-lang closed down the Black Cats singing group, and turned to raising hogs. Chen Chiu-lin, who wrote the music for "Blossoming Hillsides," and Hsu Shih, who did the same for "Remembering Anping," established a record company in an attempt to do battle against the big labels, but their venture eventually went bust.

Wen Hsia feels strongly that academics have subjected him to a lot of unfair criticism. In his view, 50 years of Japanese rule left a deep imprint upon the lives and culture of the Taiwanese people, and the popularity of adapted Japanese songs was only natural. Many years later, songs like "Hometown in Twilight" and "Mama, You Take Care Too" remained two of the Taiwanese songs most often sung by democracy activists living abroad in exile. Adapted from Japanese tunes, these songs formed a link between the generations.



In 1949, Chou Tien-wang finished first in the Hei Song pop song competition with the song "Girl by the Roadside."
The Black Cats, led by Yang San-lang, toured across Taiwan, and are part of the memories of many people who are now middle-aged.

Black Cats singing group

Taiwan entered the age of television in 1962 with the establishment of Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV), but both television and radio stations were limited by law to broadcasting only two songs in Taiwanese per day, so the advent of television didn't actually give singers of Taiwanese music much chance for any extra exposure. Nevertheless, Taiwanese pop thrived by piggybacking on Taiwanese-language cinema and stage performances. No one born in Taiwan before 1960 is likely to be unfamiliar with Yang San-lan's Black Cats song and dance group.

Yang's troupe performed in operatic style, and at a very high level. In addition to Yang's own creations, the troupe also performed jazz, Latin music, and famous songs from around the world. Performers played on the trumpet, saxophone, accordion, guitar, and many other instruments. The troupe also included a group of dancers directed by Nakano. Veteran Taiwanese drama actors Wen Ying and Su Chu are both former leading dancers of Yang's.

Many dance troupes took to putting on strip shows, however, and they became quite popular. Yang, who insisted on sticking to his ideals, had no choice but to disband his troupe. Yang then fell upon hard times, and had to scrounge for a living playing in bars. Cheng Heng-lung, who together with his wife Kuo Li-chuan recently published a book about Taiwanese music, recalls that Yang San-lang was deeply distressed not only about his own fate, but also about the demise of Taiwanese-language music: "Yang had no one to turn to. He once broke down and cried before me." It is a sad story, but Yang's uncompromising love for his art inspires nothing but respect.

As the Black Cats faded into history, Hung Yi-feng and Wen Hsia springboarded from the stage onto the silver screen, where they became matinee idols.

"Hilltop Hunk," adapted from a Japanese tune and performed by Hung Yi-feng, sold big in the 1960s. The record company took a shine to Hung and paired him up with Yeh Chun-lin to create a string of completely original works, thus bucking the trend at a time when songs adapted from Japanese tunes dominated. This development was a shot in the arm for the long-moribund market for natively produced Taiwanese pop. The new native tunes were featured in movies and spurred a third golden age in the Taiwanese genre.

Wen Hsia starred in a total of 11 flicks, and on stage appeared together with the Four Sisters, who performed with him between ages eight and 19. After the Four Sisters disbanded, Wen Hsia married one of their number, Wen Hsiang.

Lin Mao-hsien, a professor of Chinese at Providence University in Taichung, argues that the evolution of the melodies and lyrics in Taiwanese pop tracks a shift from an agrarian to an industrial society.

As Taiwan implemented four-year economic plans between 1955 and 1970, songs about work began focusing on leaving home and homesickness, and missing one's mother. This was no coincidence, as a huge chunk of the labor force left the fields and entered factories during those same years.

Accompanied by the sound of creaking and clacking textile machinery, Chen Fen-lan sang: "I want to go to Taipei and get a textile job. . . ." How many girls thought exactly that same thing during those years? And the loneliness that set in after nightfall for young people away from home came pouring out in one song after another.

Songs about drinking have undergone an interesting transformation. According to Lin Mao-hsien: "The songs they used to sing in the countryside were mostly for celebrating during downtime in the agricultural cycle. Drinking was fun. It was a happy thing, unlike today, where people in the business world are forced to drink in the course of entertaining clients. Old songs like "Drinking Time in the Countryside," you don't hear them any more." "Dancing Girl," a popular song of the 1990s, makes for a strong contrast, as it tells the story of a bargirl forced by circumstances into a tragic life.



Li Lin-chiu (first at right, back row), lyricist for "Rainy Night Flower," once founded his own film company. Second from left in the front row is Chi Lu-hsia, who was quite popular for a time.

Becoming classics

After commercial television came to Taiwan in the 1960s, Mandarin pop music streamed into households via the new medium. Television didn't do the same for Taiwanese pop, however, because of the government's heavy-handed suppression of the Taiwanese language. Children were punished or fined when caught speaking Taiwanese at school, and Taiwanese songs were seen as low-class entertainment. The younger generation's command of Taiwanese plummeted, and Taiwanese pop gradually faded in importance.

Over the years, many Taiwanese pop tunes have aged into classics. They're played infrequently, perhaps, but will never be forgotten. Songs lodge themselves more deeply in our minds than we realize.

Every Thursday morning on Chingshan Road on Yangmingshan, Taiwanese pop tunes can be heard at an outdoorsy restaurant modeled after the traditional three-sided Taiwanese residence. There are 50 or more regulars who come here every week to listen, including two 80-year-old grannies and a few farmers. Some come from nearby Tienmu. Others come from more distant parts of greater Taipei, such as Panchiao and Hsichih. They're here to take part in a "Taiwanese Pops Class" for old folks. The class is taught by none other than Chi Lu-hsia, queen of Taiwanese pop back in the 1950s.

Lin Hui-chin, aged 84, comes to class together with her recently retired son and his wife. A former piano teacher, Mrs. Lin reveals that the music teacher at her elementary school was Kuo Yu-hsien, who went on to become a first-generation Taiwanese pop star. Besides teaching Japanese songs, Kuo also sang Taiwanese pop songs to her students. Granny Lin's son, Lin Hsien-che, still remembers the time in junior high when he saw future superstar Hung Yi-feng on a street curb, strumming a guitar and singing. Both mother and son agree that Taiwanese songs are the most expressive. No doubt Lin Hsien-che will find that his own children share his love for Taiwanese pop.

"When a song is good, even if you don't sing it so often, a certain situation or mood will still trigger it in your memory." So says guitarist Cheng Heng-lung who, when he recalls boyhood memories of his parents or grandparents sitting out in the evenings in the family's moonlit courtyard, can't help singing to himself an old song about the moon. Shared memories of this sort are the stuff that bind three generations together. Good songs never die. They turn into classics, and stay with us forever.



The memorable melodies of "Blooming All Year Round," "Melancholy Moon," "Embracing the Spring Breeze," and "Rainy Night Flower" were all penned by Teng Yu-hsien. (courtesy of Chuang Yung-ming)

The Stories Behind the Music

Lyrics by Chou Tien-wang, music by Teng Yu-hsien

"Rainy Night Flower"

Rainy night flower, rainy night flower, 
      blown to the ground by the storm.
 No one to see it die, sighing with grief and regret, 
     withering on the ground, never to rise again.

The rain is remorseless, the rain is remorseless, little thinking of my future,
     and paying no heed to frailty, my future loses its luster. 
Rainwater drips, rainwater drips, luring me into the pond of disaster. 
     As I leave behind leaf and branch, there will never be anyone to see

Flower on the ground, flower on the ground, 
     who is there to look after you? 
The remorseless storm has taken your future away, 
     what can the unopened buds do but fall and fade away?

If anyone were keeping stats, "Rainy Night Flower" would certainly be one of the most sung Taiwanese songs of all time. Virtually every Taiwanese person can at least hum a few lines. Yet few people know that the melody for this sorrowful old Taiwanese song actually came originally from a children's song called "Spring," and that behind the song is a very real, and very tragic, love story.

In 1933, aiming to create Taiwanese-language songs for their compatriots to sing, several writers in Taiwan's New Literature Movement of that time began writing children's songs. One of the leading lights in literature of that period, Liao Han-chen, wrote out some simple, happy lyrics on the theme of flowers blooming in spring, and gave these to Kuo Yu-hsien to set to music.

The following year, Chou Tien-wang, a very resourceful composer of Taiwanese songs, who was much taken with the melody for "Spring," wrote new lyrics for it; but they were lyrics of a very different nature.

Once, when Chou was drinking in a tavern, one of the bargirls poured out a sad tale to him of how she ended up working in such a disreputable job. She was born in the country, and she fell in love with a man from her rural area. Later the man came to Taipei to make a living, and disappeared without a word. Deeply hurt, she came to Taipei to look for him, little expecting to discover that he had already married someone else. Too ashamed to return to her hometown, she ended up working in a Taipei gin mill.

"Rainy Night Flower" was an instant success, with its poignant lyrics that were so down-to-earth and easy to remember. Chou Tien-wang went on to write a story around "Rainy Night Flower," which was then read for recording by Chan Tien-ma, with the reading being made into a double-album love story that was at once lovely and melancholy. During WWII, the Japanese authorities went so far as to rewrite this popular number as a military march with new Japanese lyrics, designed to inspire young Taiwanese to join the Japanese army.

According to Chou's widow Ai-ai, Chou devoted much effort to the rhyming and cadence of the lyrics. On the bus, or walking on the street, he continually tried out different phrases, slowly evolving his final version. This important singer and lyricist in the world of Taiwanese songs passed away in Taipei in 1988. At his final resting place in Pali, at the mouth of the Tanshui River, four of his most important songs (including "Rainy Night Flower") are engraved on his tombstone, silently testifying to his intense dedication to music.



Yao Tsan-fu, despite his passion for music, lived a life as tragic as his melancholy songs. (courtesy of Chuang Yung-ming)

The Stories Behind the Music

Lyrics by Chen Ta-ju, music by Yao Tsan-fu

Goblet of Tragic Love

When others drink, they seem so happy and satisfied. 
When I drink I am forlorn and lovelost. 
How many people in the world are like me right now? 
Ai-ya, ai-ya, Love brings only tears and sorrow. 
Sighing with self-pity and regret, I see everything clearly now. 
With anger and frustration, glass after glass, 
with no concern for others who laugh at my drunkenness, 
ai-ya, ai-ya, who can know the troubles I have seen? 
In a drunken fog, eyes closed, I only see the color of dreamy red. 
It is not the lovely taste of wine that I seek. 
Looking at things the way they are, everything is but a dream, 
ai-ya, ai-ya, those who have lost love are the most forlorn of all.

"Some say that they drink to forget their sorrows, / but why aren't my troubles dissolved after drinking my fill? / At the bottom of the glass is the shadowy, illusory image of a dream. / Wherever I go to look for her, I always end up with a full glass of bitter brew." In the mid-1960s, the Mandarin pop star Hsieh Lei had a hit with the song "A Full Glass of Bitter Brew." But few listeners knew that this pop song was actually an updated version, rewritten with Mandarin lyrics, of an old Taiwanese tune called "Goblet of Tragic Love." The writer of the original, which was composed as a tango, was none other than Yao Tsan-fu, who gave up missionary work because of a passionate love of music.

Yao was born in 1907 and graduated from a seminary in Taipei. His love for music caused him to go against his father's wishes and give up a life in religion; instead he joined the Columbia record company. Besides "Goblet of Tragic Love," he wrote the music for many other well-known tunes, including "Anguished Heart."

"Sung in the new 'crying tune' style, this 'cry' of Yao's unleashed a veritable rain of tears that swept across all of Taiwan." So wrote Chen Chun-yu, manager of a record company, giving you some idea of the immense popularity of the original song. However, while Yao was at the height of his creative powers, his career was cut short by World War II, when the Japanese colonial government assigned him to Hong Kong as a translator.

When the war ended, his two boxloads of Japanese army-pay promissory notes became worthless paper. At the same time, with the arrival of a Chinese regime in Taiwan, Yao's colonial-era educational credentials were no longer officially recognized, and the creative space for Taiwanese-language songs was dramatically reduced. Yao had little choice but to take a job in a mining company, playing music in dance halls on the side. It was always hand-to-mouth, raising eight children on his meager salary. His older children left school as soon as possible to find work, while three of his younger children were sent to orphanages, scattering the family to the four winds.

Despite the harshness of his living conditions, Yao continued to write music. Each time he completed a new tune, he would borrow a bicycle from a friend and, with only a couple of rice dumplings to fill his stomach along the way, ride from Taichung to Taipei, pedaling from dawn to dusk, hoping to find someone to buy his latest composition. Worn down by life, Yao died in Mackay Memorial Hospital in 1967. His grave was relocated several times, and it is now uncertain where his body lies.

In those days there was no such thing as copyright protection, so, though Yao's songs were continually sung and recorded, he did not become wealthy as a result of the popularity of his music. On the contrary, his life was as tragic as the songs he wrote.

(Tsai Wen-ting/tr. by Phil Newell)



A Japanese woman doctor, unwavering in her love, never married after her romance with Wu Cheng-chia was broken up by their parents.
A heart-breaking romance gave Wu Cheng-chia the inspiration for writing "Saying Farewell by the Harbor."

The Stories Behind the Music

Lyrics by Chen Ta-ju, music by Wu Cheng-chia

"Saying Farewell at the Harbor"

The dream of love has been smashed. 
Sending my beloved off, the wind in the sea chills my face. 
Real love has been denied by our parents, 
     not understanding the passionate hearts of youth. 
The dream of freedom has been destroyed. 
Before happiness has been enjoyed to the full, tragedy comes. 
Saying sad goodbyes by the harbor, 
      the stars in the heaven glisten like tears. 
What a sorrowful night, the night we part. 
Others have shaken us awake from dreams of youth. 
Beautiful spring colors have become dark and overcast. 
The seagulls by the harbor know not that we are parting, 
     yet with each call and cry, they sing a song of breaking hearts.

In 1938, Taiwanese songwriter Wu Cheng-chia and lyricist Chen Ta-ju collaborated and simultaneously released a number of melancholy Taiwanese songs. "Saying Farewell by the Harbor" is especially noteworthy, for it records Wu Cheng-chia's own heart-rending story of love lost.

During the Japanese occupation era, Wu, a graduate in literature from a university in Japan at the tender age of less than 20, remained in Japan after graduation to get started on his career. Once, hospitalized with illness, he met and fell in love with a gentle Japanese woman doctor. Though their love was genuine, and they wanted to be married, they were prevented from doing so by the opposition of the parents on both sides.

The crestfallen Wu returned to Taiwan in 1935, and transformed this story of ill-fated love into a sad love song. Later, Wu's family, a prominent one in Taipei, arranged a marriage for him. Yet memories of his past surfaced repeatedly, each time causing him regret and pain. Many years later, Wu learned through third parties that the woman doctor had never married, but had raised their child single-handedly. He felt confused and turbulent emotions, but had no one to whom he could turn. He was inspired then to write the movie script for Saying Farewell by the Harbor.

Time passed and in 1978, at age 62, Wu finally returned to Japan, where he saw the woman doctor, who had never married, and saw his own child for the first time. The lovers of youth met again in the same coffee shop where they had had so many rendezvous 40 years before. Though time seemed to go backward, the coffee was now cold and bitter. The deeply affected Wu died three years later, leaving behind "Saying Farewell by the Harbor," a reflection of his own life, as a lament for all lovers in the world to shed a tear and sing a song of breaking hearts.

(Tsai Wen-ting/tr. by Phil Newell)

Many of the photos in this feature series come from Chuang Yung-ming, and from All About Taiwanese Pop Music by Cheng Heng-lung and Kuo Li-chuan (publisher: Taiwan Interminds Publishing, Inc). Sinorama extends its sincerest gratitude for their generous assistance.



http://www.sinorama.com.tw/ch/current_issue/show_issue.php3?id=200259105006C.TXT&page=1 (original article) English

http://www.taiwan123.com.tw/MUSIC/ada01.htm        阿達正傳 (local drive)

http://www.taiwan123.com.tw/musicface/musicface.htm (TWN Music) 

http://www.readingtimes.com.tw/sound/twsong.htm  盧修一: 音樂台灣 

http://plaza16.mbn.or.jp/~sunliong/lunwen-7c.htm 論台灣「歌仔戲」的語源與台灣俗曲「歌仔」的關係

http://ws.twl.ncku.edu.tw/hak-chia/i/iunn-khek-liong/sek-su/02-khai-soat.htm  台灣流行曲歌研究

http://library.taiwanschoolnet.org/cyberfair/C0118800001/gaga.htm 阿仁的故事: 簡上仁 

http://library.taiwanschoolnet.org/cyberfair/C0118800001/ha1.htm   鄭智仁醫師




http://taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2001/07/15/94266 (new Taiwanese pop starts)





也就是因為政府大量的禁唱歌曲,歌曲的市場大受影響,歌手深怕唱了一首禁歌就被新聞局吊銷「歌星證」,而唱片公司為了減少投資成本,避免好不容易寫了一首歌卻被禁唱,造成翻譯歌的風行。(arrow.gif (92 bytes)我們來聽前輩歌手洪一峰講當時禁歌的情況吧!

http://www.legend.net.tw/abcbbs/m3.htm  (lyrics & melody of sample songs) Lyrics 2  Midi&Lyrics 3  Songs 4 Piano5

More related links are posted in version