February 1, 2008 / 7:08 AM / in 10 years

Once banned Taiwan singer eyes Beijing Games

<p>Taiwan pop star Chang Hui-mei records a song in English called "Forever Friends" at a studio in Beijing January 24, 2008. Chang, once banned from performing in China, is hoping she will be chosen to sing at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, her past political problems forgiven and forgotten.Grace Liang</p>

BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan pop star Chang Hui-mei, once banned from performing in China, is hoping she will be chosen to sing at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, her past political problems forgiven and forgotten.

Chang has recorded a song in English called "Forever Friends" which, if chosen, she will perform in front of a global audience of billions on the night of August 8, when the Olympics open.

It would mark an amazing comeback for a singer, affectionately known as A-Mei, who in 2000 sang the Taiwan anthem for anti-China President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration.

China was incensed and stopped her from performing there until the summer of 2001. Though later allowed to return, in 2004 she cancelled a performance in Hangzhou after a protest by nearly 100 people accusing her of supporting Taiwan independence.

Chang, 35, declined to talk directly about those incidents in a recent interview with Reuters at a Beijing recording studio.

"I cannot say that my 10-year career path has been very smooth," the petite singer said.

"But at least in the past 10 years, I have had highs and lows and I am glad to have walked safely through it all," she added.

China views self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory. The island has been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled there at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Beijing has threatened to take Taiwan, by force if necessary, but over the past few years has sought favor with Taiwanese people by promoting cultural exchanges.

Taiwanese and Hong Kong singers are hugely popular in China, despite its own growing pop scene, with many fans seeing those singers as more glamorous and fashionable.

"SMALL MISTAKE"

Chang, who grew up singing for fun in her native Puyuma village, stands out because of her strong voice on light rock tracks covering matters such as love and race.

Mandarin songs like "Can I hold you?," "Bad Boy" and "When I started secretly to miss you" were big hits not just in Taiwan and China, but across Southeast Asia.

The singer's top priority now is to rehearse and record "Forever Friends," composed by Chinese musician Kong Xiangdong and Italian Giorgio Moroder, producer of the Seoul Olympic theme song "Hand in Hand."

"A-Mei made a small mistake," Kong said of Chang's previous political problems. "But the audience did not forget her after all these years."

The song has already won recognition with the Beijing Olympic organizers, who have praised it as one of their top five candidates, despite Chang's checkered past in China.

"The Olympics and music are beyond borders and beyond politics," said Wang Pingjiu, a senior official who is in charge of Olympic song selection.

"Personally, I like this song very much. But as for the future of the song -- whether it is able to make it as the Olympic theme song -- you might need to wait until the Aug 8. Olympic opening ceremony to find out the answer," he added.

Previous Olympics have seen performances by Celine Dion, Bjork and Kylie Minogue.

Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Katie Nguyen

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