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It’s hard to summarize Chinese songs in a few genres, and one can hardly explain in a scientific way why some songs became classics while others didn’t, but without doubt these old-school songs that everyone knows have touched the hearts of generations of Chinese people.
The ode to evening primrose written by Li Jinguang in 1944 has been a classic representation of old Shanghai music. The song was originally sung by Li Xianglan, a Japanese actress and singer active in China during the World War II under the disguise of a Chinese stage name, but the most famous version is by Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese diva who was exceptionally popular in Asia during the 1980s. Due to political issues, the song was banned, but that didn’t stop it from being circulated among Chinese people.
“The most romantic thing I can think of is to grow old unhurriedly with you. We collect the happiness in our life bit by bit, and save them for future talks on rocking chairs,” the melodic verse sung by Taiwanese singer Cyndi Chao has moved thousands of people across the Taiwan Strait since the song was released in 1994. It expresses an ordinary person’s yearning for eternal love.
The song is a sentimental message from a guy to his long-lost crush who used to sit next to him at school. The lyrics talk about nostalgia for times gone by, as well as the man’s heartfelt wishes for the girl’s happiness. The song was written by Gao Xiaosong, a famous musician and intellectual in China, who was inspired while combing his first girlfriend’s hair. It was an instant hit following its release in 1994, and is a landmark of Chinese folk music.
The song by Cui Jian, “father of Chinese rock ‘n’ roll”, is believed to be the ground-breaking work of China’s rock music. In 1986, Cui created the song that portrayed the perplexity and disillusion of a lost generation under the rapid economic changes in China. The song instantly struck the chord with the crowds when Cui first performed it at the Beijing Workers Stadium, and thus began a new chapter in China’s rock music. Though Cui insisted that the song was only written for fun, and was dedicated to his then girlfriend, the song was later on interpreted as a rebellious sign of the people’s desire for personal freedom and self-expression. Danish band Michael Learns To Rock adapted this song into an English version in 2007 as a tribute to Cui Jian.
The mandarin song by Singaporean singer Mavis Hee is a famous positive song in China, especially after it was used as the team song by the Chinese female national volleyball team. It tells people that there’s always sunshine and rainbows after the rain, so we should never lose hope.
You might have heard the instrumental version of Jasmine Flower performed by orchestras, or the piano version on the Piano Tiles mobile game, but you probably don’t know this song is a Chinese folk song believed to originate in today’s Jiangsu Province in Qing dynasty under the Qianlong Emperor’s reign. The song is not only known by every Chinese person, but also widely used internationally to represent the Chinese people. Click here to listen to the song performed by China’s first lady Peng Liyuan.
It’s not only “tonight” that is unforgettable. It’s difficult for any Chinese to forget this song, as it’s the unshakeable finale of the CCTV (China Central Television) Spring Festival Gala every year. That gala is the most-watched show in the world (partly due to China’s huge population), and this song is an unforgettable memory for most Chinese people. For them, Tonight is Unforgettable by Li Guyi, along with the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, is a symbol of the festivities and family gatherings during the Chinese New Year.