Teng 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 holiday in Thailand. She was 42.
Teresa Teng was born in Baozhong, Yunlin County, Taiwan, to a mainland Chinese from Hebei, where her father was a soldier. She was the only girl, with three older brothers and a younger brother. She was educated at Ginling Girls High School. As a young child, Teng won awards for her singing at talent competitions. Her first major prize was in 1964 when she sang "Visiting Yingtai" from Shaw Brothers' Huangmei opera movie, "The Love Eterne" (梁祝), at an event hosted by Broadcasting Corporation of China. She was soon able to support her family with her singing. Taiwan's rising manufacturing economy in the 1960s made the purchase of records easier for more families. With her father's approval, she quit high school to pursue singing professionally.
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." Songwriter Tsuo Hung-yun said Teng's voice was "seven parts sweetness, three parts tears."
Teng gained her first taste of fame in 1968 when a performance on a popular Taiwanese music program led to a record contract. She released several albums within the next few years under the Life Records label. In 1973 she attempted to crack the Japanese market by signing with the Polydor Japan label and taking part in Japan's Kōhaku Uta Gassen, a year-round singing match of the most successful artists. She was named "Best New Singing Star". Following her success in Japan, Teng sang many Japanese songs, including original hits such as "Give yourself to the flow of Time" (時の流れに身をまかせ Toki no Nagare ni Mi wo Makase?) which was later covered in Mandarin as "I Only Care About You".
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