Taiwanese singer Zheng Zhihua said on Sunday (July 3) night he was “shocked, angry and regretful!” after a mainland television channel changed a line of lyrics of his song to make it more positive, sparking a controversy about censorship in mainland China.
The 1992 song, Star Lighting, features lyrics that said: “The sky is now dirty, and the stars cannot be seen anymore”, which Zheng wrote as a social criticism at that time.
The new version was written for a variety show, Sisters Who Make Waves, on Hunan Satellite TV in central China, and the lyrics were changed to: “The sky now looks clear and the stars can always be seen.”
The 60-year-old Zheng opened the short Weibo post by highlighting the “randomly changed lyrics of my classic song Star Lighting ” before expressing his disappointment in the revision.
The original song is still popular in mainland China and Taiwan today.
The new version replaced the synthetics that were an iconic part of Asian pop music in the 1980s and 1990s and created a sound more in-line with today’s young singers and bands.
The updated song was performed by the Canto-pop duet Twins, made up of Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi, as well as Taiwanese sweetheart Cindy Wang, who has enjoyed a fresh boost of popularity due to the show, and mainland Chinese rising stars Wu Jinyan and Zhang Tian’ai.
It’s unknown whether Zheng or a record company owns the copyright of the original song, and Hunan Satellite TV has not responded to the South China Morning Post’s inquiry into whether it obtained authorisation from the copyright owner.
Zheng was paralysed from the waist down after a childhood bout with polio and released a string of successful pop songs in the 1990s.
His complaint triggered significant online buzz, with one popular commenter anguishing: “A song full of humanity was changed into a song of flattery.”
Another said: “Do not sing his song if you were not allowed to sing negative lyrics. This is disrespectful to the songwriter.”
The incident also reminded people of similar censorship in mainland Chinese television shows and films, which often face strict control from supervisors to avoid words and phrases that are deemed to exert “negative influence”.
Chinese rapper Dong Baoshi, better known as Gem, voluntarily changed some sharp words in his big hit Wild Wolf Disco when it was used on various variety shows in the past couple of years.
In the beginning of the song, Gem originally rapped, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, which was changed to “It was the best of times, it was the most loved of times”.
Another line of lyrics about China’s “wealthy young scions” was also changed into an irrelevant description of a “manhole cover” on the road.
Chen Minxi, Gem’s agent, said that the changes were an inevitable decision if they wanted the songs to be performed at variety shows, which often have larger audiences.
“Everyone is careful and would make an effort in advance to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding,” she said in an interview with Yuli, a WeChat account focused on mainland entertainment news.