Teng Yu-hsien: Father of Taiwanese ballads



Chinese name: 鄧雨賢
Born: July 21, 1906
Died: June 11, 1944
Birthplace: Taoyuan City (Northern Taiwan)

Teng Yu-hsien was a Hakka composer who has created nearly 100 songs in his life. The classic masterpiece "Four, Moon, Hope, Rain" refers to the four Taiwanese language songs in his works including "Four Seasons Red (四季紅),” “Moon Night Melancholy (月夜愁), “Longing for the Spring Breeze (望春風),” and “Rainy Night Flowers (雨夜花).” The songs tug at people’s heartstrings and hums in the memory of the people of Taiwan. Teng was an important musician who pioneered Taiwan's popular music in the early days.

Teng was born into a family of Sinologists. His father used to be a public school teacher in Longtan District. Later he was hired as a Chinese teacher at the Mandarin School of the Japanese Governor's Office in Taiwan. Teng moved with his family at the age of three to Taipei’s Wanghua District, where he came into frequent contact with the Minnan or Taiwanese language, creating the opportunity for him to compose countless famous Taiwanese songs later.

When he was fifteen years old, Teng entered the Taipei Normal School, the predecessor of the Taipei Municipal University of Education and revealed his musical talent. As an introverted person, Teng concentrated all his passion on music. He played the cello, violin, piano and mandolin. After graduation, Teng was sent to the Taipei-based Rixin Elementary School as a faculty member.

In 1929, due to his yearning for music, he resigned from his teaching position and went to Japan. He studied at the Tokyo College of Music and studied the theory of composition. It was there that Teng’s composing career began.

After returning to Taiwan, Teng created the "Dadaocheng Marching Song (大稻埕行進曲)" for Wensen Records in 1932. In the following year, Teng won the appreciation of the Japanese record company Columbia, and became the exclusive composer of the company. He created songs such as "Longing for the Spring Breeze," "Moon Night Melancholy," "Spring Night Song" and "Dancing Age." He garnered interest from all walks of life and had a place in the Taiwanese music scene.

In addition to concentrating on composing music, Teng was also dedicated to preserving Taiwan’s folk music through collecting folk traditional songs and operas, such as Chinese opera tune, Hakka tunes, and mountain songs.

During the Second World War, the Japanese government launched the "Japanization Movement" in Taiwan, requiring Taiwanese people to speak Japanese and change their names from Chinese to Japanese names. Teng then adopted a Japanese name and his creations, including "Longing for the Spring Breeze," "Rainy Night Flowers" and "Moon Night Melancholy" were forced to be adapted into Japanese military songs.

Such changes completely lost the original spirit of the songs, which made Teng feel very sad. Thus he resigned from the record company, and moved to Hsinchu where he taught at the Qionglin Elementary School. Feeling depressed from what had happened; Teng became ill and passed away in 1944.

Although Teng only lived till he was 38 years old, he left behind nearly 100 songs, many of which continue to be sung to this day. "Rainy Night Flowers" lyrics succinctly described the background of the times, which coincided with the wishes of Taiwanese people. "Longing for the Spring Breeze" has been selected as the most popular 100-year-old song in Taiwan, and is considered to be the most distinctive "Taiwanese tune.”