Teresa Teng, Teng Li-Chun or Deng Lijun (邓丽君，January 29, 1953 – May 8, 1995) was a Taiwanese pop singer. She was known for her folk songs and romantic ballads. Many became standards in her lifetime, such as “When Will You Return?” and “The Moon Represents My Heart”. She recorded songs not only in her native Mandarin but also in Taiwanese Hokkien, Cantonese, Japanese, Indonesian and English.
Teng, a lifelong sufferer from asthma, died in 1995 from a severe respiratory attack while on vacation in Thailand. She was 42.
Teresa Teng was born in Tianyang Village (田洋村), Baozhong Township, Yunlin County, Taiwan, to mainland Chinese parents. Her father was a soldier in the Republic of China Armed Forces from Daming, Hebei and her mother was from Dongping, Shandong.
Teng’s singing style conveyed simplicity and sincerity. Yeh Yueh-Yu, a professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Southern California said, “It was the sweetness in her voice that made her famous. She had a perfect voice for folk songs and ballads, and she added traditional folk song stylings into Western-style compositions.” Her voice was also described as being “like weeping and pleading, but with strength, capable of drawing in and hypnotizing listeners.”
In the early 1980s, continuing political tension between China and Taiwan led to her music, along with that of other singers from Taiwan and Hong Kong, being banned for several years in China as too “bourgeois”. Her popularity in China continued to grow nonetheless thanks to the black market. As Teng songs continued to be played everywhere, from nightclubs to government buildings, the ban on her music was soon lifted. Her fans nicknamed her “Little Deng” because she had the same family name as Deng Xiaoping; there was a saying that “Deng the Communist leader ruled by day, but Deng the singer ruled by night.
She won the All-Japan Record Awards for four consecutive years (1984–1988). Teng was also named one of the top female singers in the world by TIME magazine.
Though Teng performed in many countries around the world, she never performed in China. The Communist Party of China eventually invited her to do so in the 1990s, but she never did.
Teng died from a severe asthma attack, though doctors and her partner Paul Quilery had speculated that she died from a heart attack due to a side effect of an overdose of adrenergic agonists while on holiday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the age of 42 (43 by East Asian age reckoning) on May 8, 1995. Quilery was buying groceries when the attack occurred. He was also aware that Teng relied on the same medication in the two months before her death with minor attacks. Teng was an asthmatic throughout her adult life. She was given state honors at her funeral in Taiwan. President Lee Teng-hui was in attendance among thousands.
Teng had guarded her personal life from the public since 1987, fearing that it would jeopardize her career. She had a failed relationship with the son of a Malaysian gambling tycoon that ended with his death when she was about 19.
In 1982, Teng was engaged to Beau Kuok, a Malaysian businessman and son of multi-billionaire Robert Kuok. They met in 1978, but Teng called off the engagement due to prenuptial agreements which stipulated that she had to quit and sever all ties with the entertainment industry, as well as fully disclose her biography and all her past relationships in writing.
Teng also had a high-profile relationship with Jackie Chan, which resulted in failed farewell performances on Enjoy Yourself Tonight in her attempts to fade out of the entertainment business.