Taiwanese Popular Music: World War II to the 1960s (Part II)

Written by Eric Scheihagen.

Despite the efforts of the songwriters mentioned in part one and others, Hoklo songs saw a steep decline in the late 1960s. One reason for this was the preference among record companies for using Japanese songs rather than original melodies, which eventually forced many local songwriters to turn to other jobs to make a living. But another reason was government policy and changes in the society. In the 1960s, the government began heavily promoting the use of Mandarin over local languages like Hoklo.

Among the steps they took was severely restricting the number of “dialect” (i.e., non-Mandarin) songs that could be played on the radio. Also, in 1962, Taiwan’s first television station, Taiwan Television, began broadcasting. This soon became one of the main vehicles for promoting new songs, as more and more Taiwanese watched the numerous variety shows on TTV. But, as with radio, the broadcast of Hoklo songs on television was heavily restricted. So by the mid-1960s, the main way in which Hoklo songs could be promoted was through movies. Even these began to decline in number, and by the end of the 1960s, Mandarin songs completely dominated the popular music scene.

As mentioned in part one, there were very few original Mandarin songs written in Taiwan in the decade after the war. The man most responsible for changing that was composer and arranger Zhou Lanping (周藍萍). Zhou, originally from Hunan in China, came to Taiwan in the late 1940s. In the early 1950s, he composed the music for “Green Island Serenade”, which was recorded by Ziwei (紫薇), the first truly popular singer of Mandarin songs in Taiwan. Actually, “Green Island Serenade” was not popular when it was first released.

However, it slowly spread among the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, gradually growing in popularity, and after several years became a hit back in Taiwan itself, where it is now considered a classic. Zhou composed music for a number of other original Mandarin songs which appeared in movie soundtracks in the late 1950s, often working with the lyricist Zhuang Nu (莊奴), who would go on to write lyrics for many hit songs. However, it was “Recalling the Past” (回想曲), recorded in 1961 by Ziwei (紫薇) with both music and lyrics by Zhou, that many consider the first really big Mandarin hit in Taiwan (even “Green Island Serenade” supposedly only peaked in popularity in its wake). Zhou also wrote a number of other well-known songs such as “Beautiful Formosa” (美麗的寶島); even more successfully, he composed the music for the huangmei opera film The Love Eterne (梁山伯與祝英台), which shattered box office records in Taiwan in 1963.

Unfortunately, Zhou moved to Hong Kong to work on movies, depriving Taiwan of its premier composer of Mandarin songs. So instead, record companies producing Mandarin records did the same thing that those producing Hoklo records did — they used songs from Japan and other foreign countries. “Unforgettable Memory” (意難忘), recorded in 1963 by Meidai (美黛), was a massively popular Mandarin hit, perhaps the first to successfully outsell the Hoklo songs of the time. This song was a Japanese melody to which lyricist Shenzhi (慎芝) added Mandarin lyrics, as was “Heartless Person” (負心的人), a big hit for Yao Surong (姚蘇蓉) which was later banned because it was considered “unhealthy”.

Shenzhi also wrote lyrics to an old Taiwanese song for “A Glass Full of Bitter Brew” (苦酒滿杯), popularized by Xie Lei (謝雷), and to a Korean song for “Crying Flower” (淚的小花), popularized by Qing Shan (青山). However, new composers of Mandarin songs did finally begin to emerge in the late 1960s. The most successful of these was Zuo Hongyuan (左宏元), who worked frequently with Zhuang Nu. Together they wrote a number of hits for Yao Surong and others. Zuo also wrote the music for Yao’s huge hit “I’m Not Going Home Today” (今天不回家), another song that was later banned, and for “Jingjing” (晶晶), a theme song which was an early hit for Deng Lijun (鄧麗君; also known as Teresa Teng).

Though first Hoklo and then Mandarin songs dominated Taiwan’s mainstream popular music scene in the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan’s other ethnic groups, the Hakka and the various aboriginal peoples, still had their own music in this period. Hakka music was still mostly traditional music such as “mountain songs”, but singers like Lai Bixia (賴碧霞) and Lu Jinshou (呂金守), who recorded under the name Minglang (明朗), did record some popular songs in Hakka. However, these were primarily adaptations of songs that had been hits in other languages.

As for aboriginal songs, Puyuma songwriters Lu Senbao (陸森寶) and Chen Shi (陳實) wrote a number of original songs in this period, including Lu’s “Beautiful Rice Grains” (美麗的稻穗) and Chen’s “Ocean” (海洋). It was also in the 1960s that Amis singer Lu Jingzi (盧靜子), the first aboriginal star, emerged. Though she wasn’t well known among Han Chinese listeners, she was popular in all the aboriginal communities and even performed overseas in Japan and Southeast Asia. Several aboriginal songs also crossed over into the mainstream, such as “Malan Romance” (馬蘭之戀), which was turned into a hit song in Mandarin and Hoklo and was covered by many popular singers.

But for most music listeners in Taiwan at the end of the 1960s, Taiwan’s music scene was dominated by Mandarin songs popularized on television (a second station, China Television began broadcasting in 1969). Some of these songs were composed by local songwriters, but many were still adaptations of foreign hits. Lyrically, many were overly sentimental and shallow love songs which had limited appeal for the educated youth of the time, who turned instead to Western music. This state of affairs set the scene for the transformation of Taiwan’s music scene in the 1970s.

Eric Scheihagen (徐睿楷) is a pop music historian. He has collected a wide variety of Taiwanese popular music over the past two decades, including Mandarin, Hoklo, Hakka, and Aboriginal music. He currently hosts a radio show on Alian 96.3 Indigenous Radio. Image credit: CC by Effie Yang/Flickr.

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