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Taiwanese-Language Singer | Wen Hsia

  • Date:2023-02-02
Taiwanese-Language Singer | Wen Hsia

Chinese Name: 文夏 (王瑞河)
Date of Birth: May 20, 1928
Date of Death: April 6, 2022
Place of Birth: Tainan (Southern Taiwan)
Did You Know?
Over the years, Wen Hsia penned more than 1,200 songs, of which fully 99 were listed as banned songs during Taiwan's decades of martial law. This mammoth number made Wen the singer with the single largest number of banned songs to his name, earning him the nickname "King of the Forbidden Songs."

Wen Hsia was born Wang Jui-ho in Tainan in 1928. He showed a talent for singing from an early age, joining the church choir at the tender age of five. After finishing elementary school, he went to Tokyo, Japan, to study vocal music, composition, and piano and guitar performance. Three years later, when he returned to Taiwan to study at Tainan Vocational High School, Wen and a group of fellow music-loving students formed an orchestra. Among them was Shi Wen-long (許文龍), who would go on to become the founder of Chi Mei Group—back then, however, he was the orchestra’s conductor and violinist. This group of passionate youngsters would often put on performances during summer and winter vacations.

Wen Hsia wrote his first song, "Wandering Girl (漂浪之女)," when he was still in high school. He was struck by inspiration and composed the melody but found himself lacking the lyrics to go along with it, so he sought out the help of poet Hsu Bing-ding (許丙丁) to write them. After Hsu's work was done, Wen marveled at the elegance and poetry of the lyrics, which told the story of a woman who was desperate for love as she wandered far from home. After graduating from high school, Wen entered the music scene and recorded his first Taiwanese album, also titled "Wandering Girl," for Asia Records, which became very popular.

In 1957, Wen and four beautiful young songstresses—Wen Ying (文鶯), Wen Hsiang (文香), Wen Chueh (文雀), and Wen Feng (文鳳)—formed Wen Hsia and His Four Sisters (文夏四姊妹合唱團), recording a number of records and touring all over Taiwan. Some of the songs were later selected as the theme songs for movies he shot, and one of the "sisters," Wen Hsiang, later became Wen Hsia's wife. In 1962, Wen Hsia and His Four Sisters made their debut starring turn in the musical film "Taipei Night (台北之夜)," with both movie and songs proving immensely popular. The film became the biggest Taiwanese-language box office hit of the year, and Wen became the king of Taiwanese-language music and movies.

During the period of martial law in Taiwan, TV was the mainstream for entertainment and leisure, but with the Taiwanese language suffering tight restrictions, only two songs in the language could appear on TV a day. Thus, singers like Wen had to look for alternative methods to get exposure. Taiwanese musical films with singers as the leads gave singers an opportunity to have their songs heard throughout Taiwan, which in turn drove trends in record sales.

From 1962 to 1972, Wen Hsia shot an average of one Taiwanese-language musical a year, starring in 11 movies. Throughout the time, he toured the island, becoming popular across Taiwan and making a name as an icon of Taiwanese song. However, the government still didn't relax its suppression of music creators. In the 1970s, through the issuance and revocation of singer certificates and the intervention of the review system, the thoughts of entertainers were censored, and the form and content of singers' public performances were tightly monitored. The government's actions forced Wen Hsia to take his performances to Japan. Feeling helpless about the situation, he once remarked that "I couldn't sing Taiwanese songs in Taiwan, and when I came to Japan, I had to sing to a group of people who didn't understand Taiwanese."

Wen Hsia's banned songs included the ever-familiar "Mama, I'm Strong Too (媽媽我也很勇健)," "Mama, Please Take Care (媽媽請妳也保重)," and "Hometown at Dusk (黃昏的故鄉)." All of these reflected the stories of young people in rural areas who were far from home struggling in the big city or in foreign lands. Songs that evoked nostalgia were banned by the censors for "disrupting military mental fortitude and detracting from morale." However, the more such songs were banned, the more popular they became. Among them, "Hometown at Dusk" was the song most frequently sung by Taiwanese dissidents who were exiled overseas during martial law. In that unfree era, Wen Hsia was unwilling to compromise, insisting on using his clarion voice to sing Taiwanese songs to accompany the Taiwanese people.

Full of creative energy even into his old age, Wen continued composing songs well into his twilight years. In 2003, he wrote "The Great Taiwan March (大台灣進行曲)," which symbolized the integration of Taiwan's many ethnic groups. Wen Hsia's contribution to the development of Taiwan's traditional ballads and music culture won him the Special Contribution Award at the 23rd Golden Melody Awards in 2012. In 2017, at almost 90 years of age, he held a solo concert, becoming the singer with the longest active career in Taiwanese music history.

On April 6, 2022, Wen Xia passed away in his sleep at the age of 94. Although the King of Taiwanese Song may have departed this world, his songs will continue to be passed down by generations of Taiwanese music creators to come.