Friday, August 24, 2012

Searching For My Favourite Chinese Oldies: Yao Li - 那個不多情 姚莉


Yao Li has passed away on 19 July 2019 from The Malay Mail.

Chinese Mandarin oldies: 那個不多情 姚莉 (Yao Li). 
From - sydneylam19

Songs I Love

If it weren't for the magic of the computer, Google and YouTube I would never have been able to retrieve or even listened to the Chinese oldies by the great prewar songstress Yao Li.  In fact, I didn't even know the singer's name nor the song title.  There was an evening I googled, Chinese Mandarin Oldies found the above video and recognised the melody immediately. Memories of my childhood flooded my data bank.

PYE Radio 1950s in our living room shophouse.

These songs were my mother's favourites and I used to listen to them in the 50s when she tuned in to some Chinese programmes from the radio. I am not sure if they were from our own stations or from overseas but the family's PYE radio certainly took us to places unknown and songs so beautiful. 

Today I wish to share these songs especially with those who are not familiar with Mandarin songs from the 1940s. But first... the singer.

Yao Li or Yáo Xiùyún (姚秀雲) was raised in Shanghai and rose to popularity singing in one of the city's dance halls.  She had her songs broadcasted over the radio in 1935 at aged 13 and recorded her first single with Pathe Records at 14 with Yan Hua (嚴華) called Xin xiao fang niu (新小放牛) or the new cowherd. 

She also often recorded as a duo with her pop singer brother. At that time she became a rival of Zhou Xuan, and was called Silver Voice as opposed to Zhou Xuan's Golden Voice (check Labels below).  Yao Li's success in Shanghai was partially due to the vocal training of the Russian diaspora court musicians. 
In the 1940s,  she was encouraged to imitate Afro-American singers seen in Hollywood movies.  These movies were available in Shanghai. Her voice improved tremendously and in the 50s she developed a singing style like her idol Patti Page.

Because she got married and had family Yao Li halted her career in 1947. Following the Communist power seizure in China in 1949, popular music was banned and Yao fled to Hong Kong in 1950. She continued singing and recording as these became hits.   Within five years she made the popular 桃花江 (Peach Blossom River) as her singing voice was used in films to dub those of famous Chinese actresses.  Soon the featured songs became hits for Yao Li too. 

In 1967  she halted her singing career and within two years acquired a position as an executive with EMI Music Hong Kong.  She returned to performing in Taiwan from 1970 and retired in 1975.

The above song on YouTube is one that I listen to very often and the melody never strays from my mind.  Roughly translated this song, (姚莉 -那個不多情 姚莉) means, That's Not Sentimental.  Ironical. Another favourite of mine is  The Spring Breeze Kisses My Face (姚莉 - 春風吻上我的臉) recorded in 1956.

There are still many other Chinese melodies swimming in my mind and if I find them I shall share them on this blog. 

Edited information from Wikipedia and whatsinmyipodblogspot. 

Certain information about Yao Li may not be accurate and I stand corrected.

19 July 2019

She passed away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has given a performance in 2012. May she Rest In Peace.

Images: Google.



From my research I found that the arrangers and musicians employed by the recording studios in Shanghai were refugees from Russia and others from Western countries.

They were highly trained composers and instrumentalists. They made a living by playing in dance halls and teaching These people have long left China, but their students continued to make contributions in the Chinese music scene

PASSER BY said...

Another hit would have been, 'Rose, Rose I Love You' the Frankie Laine hit which was originally sung by Yao Li.

It was a 1940 Chinese popular song "Méigui méigui wǒ ài nǐ" (玫瑰玫瑰我愛你. An English-language version whose lyrics have little in common with the original Mandarin was then recorded by Frankie Laine in 1951.

Is it true that the song is the only major popular music chart hit in the United States written by a Chinese composer?

The song is also known as "Shanghai Rose" and "China Rose."

Trust the West to love anything 'mysteriously East'.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

THE LITTLE SHOEMAKER (there's a version by Petula Clark), BUTTONS AND BOWS (Bob Hope and Doris Day or Dinah Shore)and RIVER OF NO RETURN (Julie London) have been covered/translated into Chinese and sung by Yao Li.

Are there other songs?

FL said...

Andy, it's true that with the internet/you tube,it does help us (people around our old generation) to recall the old classic Mandarin songs of the 40s to the early 60s.

In the early 60s, my late cousin owned an old portable gramophone with a protruding speaker. I remember he had quite a collection of the now extinct 78 rpm records (His Master Voice) with the old mandarin songs of 40s to 50s. As a young kid in kampong days, I used to help him change the records and stylus (needles) after each play.At that age, I could not read Mandarin and I could not recall the song titles. Fortunately, with internet/you tube, it helps to trace those song titles and the singers' names of the past. Thanks.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi FL,

It must have been exciting times. I remember seeing these machines but never had the opportunity to buy one as most of our Mandarin songs came from the radio and the new record-player of the 60s where we bought 33 and 1/3 Long Play Pathe records to play Yao Li and other Chinese singers.

I cannot even remember the brand of the record player. It could be the first batch of Garrard record players.

Thanks for your comment and visit.

LOUCAST said...

Hello Andy,

I have managed to retrieve the song that haunted me all these years, however I do not know if this is the original recording which, in my opinion was sung at a faster tango beat.

As mentioned in my mail, the strains of this and other lovely mandarin tunes could be heard from the coffee shop down stairs not far from my house in Joo Chiat Road when I was a school boy in the 50's.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Arthur thank you,

We must meet one day. This is one of my mother's favourite songs. She's the one who speaks the language and would listen to the radio when my dad's not using it. She introduced many of these 40s songs to me. I think there're a lot of other ones in the same genre.

Not many people know these melodies except for people in our age group. I just wish some of our younger folks especially those who work at the museums, libraries and related industries would learn more about melodies by just listening and ENJOYING them. If there's interest there's always learning.

loucast said...

Hi Andy,

I have managed to retrieve the video and mp3 song which was the subject of my last email to you. It seems that Yao Li may not have sung the song I mentioned, I will therefore enlist the assistance of a friend for the singer and source of the song which should be in You tube.

Have a good day.


Old man said...

.having live in England for the past twenty years hearing this old ever green Chinese Classics brings a lot of happiness which I can't decried. I m in my late sixties now.. We can talk until the cows come home n still not finish with the time of our life with the memories of the 50's n 60's chinese music..Pai Kuan, is another lovely singer during this period. Still have some old His Master Voice records which my parent kept it when we have the luxury to have the winding gramophone..Thank you Andy for the memories....Cheers.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you very much for your comment and visit. i am glad you have been able to travel back to the days of Pai Kuan on HMVs. At our age there's little else to appreciate and remember except positive memories of a life once lived and a loving family.

Old man said...

Thank you Andy for all the things u have done to make our remaining days full of lovely memories with your features on the 60's n 70's music..As Paul Anka had sang..The Time of your Life...n The Wonderful World we live in thru your energy in making all of us The Young Ones...thank u once again..

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Again thanks for taking time to write and provide feedback. If it's one thing I'd like to do before end days it's to write a little about our past.

Please feel free to write any time about the songs you listen to, or with this particular Chinese singer or other singers. I shall certainly post them on this blog. You are always welcome.

Anonymous said...

I think back in early 70s Singapore as a little boy I saw a girl in variety show on TV singing a mandarin cover of Helen Shapiro "You Don't Know".

Does anyone has recollection who that girl is. She was probably a uni girl then.

Also anyone one know where can I find a mandarin or cantonese version of this song in youtube?

If translate then in chinese it would be "你不知道" but I can't find anything apart from some Japanese version.

Please email me

Pw said...

Hi Andy, Lovely site!
Can you recommend a few Cantonese songs for my mom's 90th birthday?
Thanks very much.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

OK Gimme a few days. I'm not familiar with them since I don't even speak Mandarin. But I will try.

Thanks for visiting.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I have some so provide me your email address and I will send them to you. I shall not publish your address nor the song titles.


谢谢Mr. Lim 让我可以重温旧梦 听听老歌 好享受啊 ! 真是多谢你了 。你有贡献 你真行 !

Andy 那些老歌也挺动听的 想不到他还请到帮手 蛮有意思的。再接再励。我们可有福了!

Translation : Thank you for the nostalgic memories through listening this song. Please continue so that we can enjoy the memories through these oldies.

Dr. Lee said...

My favourite Chinese oldies by male singer is this song "Young Dream" which I put on utube:
(Han Larn Kern Young Dream)

Dr. Lee said...

I also like Yao Li's song and my favourite are "Rose Rose I love You" which she sang in 1940 and another song she did with her brother Yoa Ming called Su San. Here is a utube of this song:
I have a good collection of Chinese oldies. I still have some 78 records from my father who also loved to collect records. Unfortunately most was stolen during a burglary in my family old home long time ago.
I love Chinese oldies by male singer mainly. Another favorite Chinese oldies female singer I like is Ker Lan (Grace Chang).

Dr. Lee said...

One other favorite Chinese oldies female singer I like is Lin Dai especially those she sang with Yuen Choon. I like to listen to all those Chinese oldies. Big influence from my father. Unfortunately, I know very little Mandarin as I am English school educated.

Anonymous said...

Her beautiful voice and songs will remain for generations to appreciate...may she rest in peace. Yen


Andy Young
My mother's favourite singer. Yes, those who are familiar with Chinese oldies and the Shanghai Divas would know her. Gone at 96. My favorite song is the one I posted on the blog. RIP YAO LI.

Andy Young
Hi, Daisy Thanks.

Hiroshi Deguchi
I am sorry for your loss. She must have seemed like an old friend of yours or someone you grew up with. I became interested in how you were brought up in the family I would like to have. I would have enjoyed being given various cultural influences if I had stayed with your family for some days in the 50s and 60s.

Andy Young
Wow. That's a thought. Thank you. You write deep from the bottom of your heart Hiroshi. I seldom find that in many people. No, never knew her but she was such a great singer. Even the 78s that I used to have, with its shrieky sound and high pitched tone, didn't stop her beautifully modulated voice to be amplified so clearly. I think it's just a love for great music. Again thank you, Hiroshi.

Andy Young
Thanks to those who LIKE the news report but share her loss. Great singer truly. Just got a note from my student. "Haha, this song I know how to sing," she says. Thanks, Yen Chow.

Sorry to learn that she left this beautiful world. Her voice and songs will carry on for generations.

Andy Young
Hey Yen, Welcome and thanks.

JOHN BT TAN: "What a feeling, my mind went way back even though I'm not from that era. Very well written indeed.👍👏" THANK YOU JOHN.

Stephen Han
Yao Li is my wife’s favourite Mandarin singer. The song “River Of No Return” was best sung by Marilyn Monroe in a film

Peter Lim
Sad to hear of th passing of Mandarin pop song Queen, Yao Li ❤❤ the least we can take comfort that she lived to the ripe old age of 96... I grew up listening to her enormous repertoire of great Mandarin songs.. such talent.. and of course "Rose Rose I Love You" happened to be a favourite of mine... Happy to know that you're one of her ardent fan too, Andy... May she Rest-in-peace .. 🙏🙏🙏..Have a nice weekend in Singapore.. 🌞🌞😎😎

Hi, Peter.
I came across the song "Rose Rose.." quite later in 1980 as a matter of fact, from the ones by Anita Mui or by an American singer. The song always made me imagine a sad girl waving goodbye to the ship leaving the harbour of SG or HK in the days we Asian were poor. I feel I can understand because I was born and brought up in the portside city "Shimonoseki" Still for me they were good old days when I was a kid and didn't know the real world.

Freda Hanum
It is indeed a beautiful write out of this wonderful singer Yao Li. I used to hear and loved this Mandarin song "Rose Rose I Love You" during my mother's younger days, and did this song in English by Frankie Laine under my oldies collection. Beautiful specific kind of melody. May her soul RIP. 🙏🏻

Andy Young
Thanks, Peter, Stephen and Freda for all your informative writeup and feelings for this famous diva. The comments are a rich source and I remember Freda explaining how important feed-back is from readers; inspirational.

Freda Hanum
Thank you, Andy, it's a really nice compliment for me!

Peter Lim
Thanks, Andy... As William Shakespeare aptly puts it, "If music is the food of love, play on..."..and we all love music... .. Enj9y your weekend.. 🎸🎹🥁🎙🌞🌞😎😎

Andy Young
Thank you, Peter. Cheers to you and Vancouver.


Frankie Laine was the original singer of the English version..
you're absolutely right.. 👍👍...
Anita Mui recorded the Cantonese version..
and the English lyrics refer to the port on old Malaya.
which is likely the good old poet city of Singapore ...
in the 1950s... 😎😎👍👍

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JAMES KWOK said...

Now every Sunday evening on Mediacorp Radio Channel 958, from 9pm to 11pm, the Chinese Golden oldies they play bring back memories of my childhood days when Yao Li and SHANGHAI DIVAS and other songstresses were gracing the late evening Rediffusion Golden Network airwaves with their serenades.

Thanks for the reminder, Andy.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Good to know there are still many folks out there who appreciate great Chinese pop classics. THANK YOU ALL who gave the thumbs up.


Raymond Ho said...

Enjoy her song Rose Rose l love you and 森林之哥