There are few nations on this planet that have as rich of a musical history as China. Chinese artists are well known for digging into that history and joining some of the most traditional aspects with modern music to create genres that continue to enrich the world.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 15 of the greatest and most famous Chinese singers of all time.
1. Teresa Teng
There is no singer more iconic to Chinese music than Teresa Teng. She pioneered the sound of the Mandopop genre and forged a career spanning over 30 years.
Teng was born in Baozhong, Yunlin, Republic of China, and first began to sing at age three. Her family recognized her talent and supported her as she rose to fame.
Her career path is as unique as her voice. She actually rose to popularity in Japan before she began dominating the Chinese music charts.
Teng made music in seven different languages and topped billboard charts across the world.
2. Cui Jian
Next, we have Cui Jian who is known across China as “the father of Chinese rock.”
He was born in Beijing to a family that was already immersed in music. His father played trumpet and his mother danced professionally. So it’s no surprise that Jian grew into the pioneering musician he is today.
Originally trained in classical music, Jian didn’t actually pick up a guitar until after the age of 20.
Once he was introduced to Western rock, there was no stopping him from creating a genre of his own.
Jian drew his inspiration from popular 80s rock artists and forged a rock genre that to this day, is still unique to China.
3. Li Yuchun (Chris Lee)
One of the more modern influential singers in China is Li Yuchun, also known as her stage name, Chris Lee.
Yuchun is what most would consider the full package. She writes her own music, is an accomplished DJ, and is a successful actress.
After middle school, Yuchun attended the Sichuan Conservatory of Music school and went on to win a popular singing competition called Super Girl. Winning Super Girl propelled Yuchun into an overnight success.
She quickly released her debut album The Queen and the Dreams and stamped her influence on Chinese culture with her stunning vocals and androgynous style.
4. Lu Han
Although he was born in Beijing, China, Lu Han actually left China and began his musical career as a member of the K-pop group Exo.
He rose to fame recording K-pop music, but later left the group and began a solo career singing Mandopop back home in China.
He has been ranked as one of the highest-paid celebrities in all of China, which isn’t difficult to understand considering his obvious talent.
His most popular music video for the song Our Tomorrow exceeded one million views in under an hour.
Han has managed to take his successful singing career and propel himself into the acting arena as well. To date, he’s appeared in five movies and various television shows.
5. Sam Hui
Sam Hui was born to a musical family in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. He was influenced from an early age by the traditional Chinese music his father played, and the Chinese opera music his mother sang.
Considering his childhood, it’s no surprise that Hui managed to fuse traditional Chinese music genres with Western pop music, creating the genre now known as Cantopop.
Hui sang in both English and Cantonese. He released songs in Britain and the United States earlier in his career but found true success by singing songs that appealed to the middle class in China.
Hui wrote his own music and frequently interjected political symbolism and hopeful messages that still inspire listeners today.
6. Jay Chou
Known as the “King of Mandopop,” Jay Chou has been enchanting listeners across China since 2000.
He was born in Taipei to two teachers who fostered his musical talents from an early age.
Originally, Chou thought to follow in his parent’s footsteps and become a teacher, but a friend entered him into a talent show where his musical prowess was noticed.
He was linked with popular songwriter Vincent Fang who helped launch him to the next level.
As Chou’s career has progressed, he’s moved away from his original pop-centric music and has begun to create hits that are more hip-hop and R&B influenced.
7. Andy Lau
Andy Lau was born in Hong Kong while the colony was still under British rule.
He came from a wealthy family, but through some unexplained circumstances found himself living with his family in the slums of Hong Kong at the age of six.
Lau began his career in the spotlight as an actor but pivoted to music by 1985.
While his first album didn’t see commercial success, he continued to make music and honed his craft until he became one of the most influential Cantopop musicians of all time.
By the year 2000, Lau had won over 200 awards, establishing himself firmly among the legends of Chinese film and music.
8. Jacky Cheung
Born in British-ruled Hong Kong, Jacky Cheung broke into the Cantopop scene with a baritone voice that was strikingly different from his peers.
Cheung grew up in a family of seamen and held various working-class jobs before winning a singing contest in 1984.
After winning the contest, Cheung was signed by Polygram Records and began his ascent into China’s Cantopop culture.
Originally he struggled to outsell his counterparts, but by 1985 he had already begun to amass awards for his music.
Cheung brought a baritone and vibrato voice to Cantopop that made his style of singing impossible to replicate.
9. Faye Wong
Faye Wong was born to a working-class family in Beijing, China. Her mother was a professional soprano singer who actively discouraged Wong from pursuing a career in music.
But Wong’s passion for singing couldn’t be diminished. Wong attracted attention from several different labels when she was still in high school and even went so far as to release several cover albums before she graduated.
In 1988 Cinepoly Records signed Wong, and she began her professional music career in full force.
By 1993 Wong had cemented her place in China’s music scene by combining Cantopop with Western alternative rock and effectively creating a genre of her own.
10. Jolin Tsai
Jolin Tsai, otherwise known as “The Queen of C-pop”, was born in Hsinchuang City to a middle-class family.
She began her interest in music by mastering the piano. After she graduated high school, Tsai entered into and won a singing competition hosted by MTV Mandarin hoping to use the competition as a way to bolster her college applications.
The competition allowed her to be noticed by Universal Records, who she signed with in 1999.
Tsai is most known for her ability to consistently reinvent genres and release innovative music with every new album.
11. Anita Mui
Anita Mui was born in Hong Kong as the youngest of four children. Her father died when she was young, which meant that she was thrust into poverty and had to work alongside her siblings to provide.
Mui dropped out of high school before she was 16 and worked as a singer to bring in an income for her family.
In 1982 Mui entered the New Talent Singing Awards and won. She signed with Capital Artists and began to release albums.
By her death in 2003, Hui had released 50 albums total and become a household name across China.
12. Gloria Tang/ G.E.M.
Originally born in Shanghai, China, Gloria Tang moved with her family to Hong Kong at the age of four.
Her family was deeply immersed in music and encouraged her to pursue her musical interests from a young age.
Tang began to write her own songs as a young teen and complimented her singing by learning the piano.
In 2006 Tang won the singing competition Spice It Up and was subsequently signed by Hummingbird Music. She began her professional music career before she even left high school.
Tang sings in both Mandarin and Cantonese and displays a vocal range that rivals Western equivalents like Adele.
Tang has released six albums since her career began and has managed to amass hundreds of millions of views on her music videos.
13. Liu Huan
If there were a Chinese equivalent to Micheal Jackson, then Liu Huan would be it. Huan was born in Tianjin, China to a middle-class family.
Before he began his music career, he completed a degree in French Literature. But, his classmates would later describe how he could always be found strumming his guitar on campus.
Huan is a self-taught musician with no formal training, which makes his massive success that much more impressive.
He is considered one of the founders of the C-pop genre and remains relevant in Chinese music to this day.
14. Jane Zhang
Jane Zhang was born in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. Her family was poor and Zhang began singing in pubs as a child to help bring in money for her family.
In 2005 Zhang entered the singing competition Super Girl and came in third place.
Her participation in the competition launched her into the spotlight and she was signed by Huayi Brothers Media Corporation and began to release albums in 2006.
To date, Zhang has released seven albums and has gone platinum several times over.
15. Hua Chenyu
And finally, Hua Chenyu is from an upper-class family from Hubei, China. He spent his life living with his father after his parents divorced at a young age.
Under the care of his father, Chenyu was encouraged to learn different musical instruments which sparked his interest and revealed his immense musical talent.
Chenyu competed in the singing competition Super Boy in 2013 and won first place.
He released his debut album Quasimodo’s Gift the following year and topped Asia’s music charts.
Chenyu artfully blends Mandopop and Chinese rock to create a sound that keeps his listeners coming back for more.