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By Eli Meixler
January 29, 2018

Pop star Teresa Teng, whose fame bridged political divides across China in the 1970s and 1980s, was renowned for her multi-lingual songbook and tear-jerking love ballads. Today, on what would have been the singer’s 65th birthday, Teng is celebrated with a Google Doodle.

Teng was born on Jan. 29, 1953 in Taiwan, and became a breakout star in Japan in the 1970s. Known as one of the “Five Great Asian Divas,” Teng was celebrated across Asia for her melancholy love songs, including “I Only Care About You,” “When Will You Return?” and “The Moon Represents My Heart,” portrayed in Monday’s Doodle. Taiwanese songwriter Tsuo Hung-yun called her voice ”seven parts sweetness, three parts tears.”

Despite geopolitical tensions, Teng was a sensation across the straits, where she offered “an alternative to the mostly revolutionary songs then prevalent in mainland China,” according to Google. Known in Chinese as Deng Lijun, Teng shared a family name with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, leading fans to nickname her “Little Deng” and giving rise to the aphorism, “Deng the leader ruled by day, but Deng the singer ruled by night.”

uang Xiaogui, 100 years old, poses with a wax figure of Teresa Teng at Madame Tussauds on in Wuhan, China on Oct. 11, 2013.
VCG—VCG/Getty Images H

But Teng never performed in mainland China, and her music was banned there in the early 1980s. She was a supporter of democracy and following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, she performed concerts for the student protesters, the New Yorker reports. Her music proved “a litmus test of the political winds” in China, according to an obituary in the New York Times.

Teng herself never married, though she was linked to a few high-profile romantic partners, including film star Jackie Chan, and she died unexpectedly following an asthma attack while on holiday in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 1995, at the age of 42. But neither Teng’s music nor her cultural impact have been forgotten, and in 2013 she was reborn for an audience of 15,000 in Taipei, where a hologram accompanied some of the singer’s greatest hits.

Write to Eli Meixler at eli.meixler@time.com.

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