TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A museum-cum-restaurant in Beijing has become a permanent tribute to Taiwan’s premiere pop star Teresa Teng.
The New York Times reports the shrine is a multi-storey building located in a western Beijing neighborhood among other bars and restaurants, but easily stands out due to the enormous portrait of Teng smiling and holding a white rose that adorns its facade.
Each night, The Times writes, performers in bedazzled gowns take to the stage to reel off some of her most famous hits, including songs like “The Moon Represents My Heart” to an adoring crowd.
Catchy melodies and simple yet sincere lyrics have made the singer a karaoke staple within the Chinese-speaking world and among new Mandarin learners, but her music seems to have a much deeper resonance with many in the Chinese capital.
A regular patron of the venue named Mr. Meng declared to The Times that the restaurant is his “spiritual home,” a place he can escape to. “She knows what it’s like to be human—to find love and make mistakes,” he told the paper.
Theresa Teng died suddenly of an asthma attack while on vacation in Thailand in 1995. The singer was deemed prolific enough to be commemorated at a state funeral attended by none other than Taiwan’s then-president Lee Teng-hui.
Teng’s legacy has lived on through the ages and across the globe, with her image being honored in some surprising places, including a Google Doodle to celebrate her would-have-been 60th birthday in January 2018.
Born of Chinese parents—a Republican soldier and his wife—who fled to Taiwan after the R.O.C. was exiled from across the strait, Teng’s music has, at different times, both bridged divides and been used to reinforce them.
The sensation’s popularity on both sides of the strait could be said to have re-illuminated a reticent cultural connection, and her ballads were some of the first non-revolutionary songs to fall upon Chinese ears in the 1970s.
The light Teng provided in a country emerging from darkness was soon snuffed out when Chinese authorities declared her music too sensual and banned it, but this was later lifted after it continued to proliferate through the black market.
Well-known ballads like “Tian Mi Mi” were blasted into China during the ban from a three-storey sonic tower on Kinmen Island known as Beishan Broadcast Wall, which comprises 48 loudspeakers. As the apparent most-cherished songstress of erstwhile Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, she was used to antagonize the Communist regime.
Teng even scaled the tower herself at one point to implore China to fight for freedom.
The grip Teng had on China’s imagination appears to have never diminished, and despite prior action to tarnish her reputation, she is now celebrated by the Chinese state and society alike. The owner of the Beijing tribute restaurant told The New York Times it was not opened on any political premise, but simply as a celebration of her legacy.
“Music has no sense of borders,” the paper quotes him as saying.
The Asian subdivision of U.S. broadcaster FOX is set to release a five-part anthology series about the singer’s life this year. It is hoped her music can be introduced to a new generation of fans in Taiwan and across the world.