Course:ASIA321/2022/Anita Mui

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Anita Mui

Imagine you were on the streets in Hong Kong, where the streets are bustling with activity. If you were to ask them who was the “Daughter of Hong Kong”, most, if not all people would reply to you with one name: 梅艷芳, or Anita Mui. Anita Mui was one of the most influential Cantopop stars from Hong Kong, her music striking an everlasting impression on all her fans, not only in her local Hong Kong, but all across the world. Not only was her on stage persona widely accepted by fans across the world, her humanitarian efforts and activism inspired the generations of Hong Kong people following her career. Our wiki page will discuss Anita Mui’s life roles, her music and film career, and the societal, economic, ideological and historical background behind it; we will also dig into people's reception of Anita Mui, and her impact on the industry and the society as a whole.

This Wiki page seeks to educate people about Anita Mui as a person and as a celebrity image from an academic perspective.


Anita Mui (October 10, 1963-December 30, 2003) was a female artist, actress, and social activist in Hong Kong, China. In 1982, after winning the first Hong Kong Rookie Singing Contest, she signed a contract with Huaxing Records and released her first album Heart Debt. In 1983, Mui won the Asian Special Award at the 12th Tokyo Music Festival. In 1985, her album Bad Girl was released, breaking the previous top sales record of records in Hong Kong at the time. In 1987, she won the Golden Horse Award, the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Best Actress at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival with the movie Rouge. In 1997, she participated in the movie Half Life, for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 17th Hong Kong Film Awards and the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 3rd Hong Kong Film Golden Bauhinia Awards. In 2002, she won the Best Actress Award at the 6th China Changchun Film Festival and the Best Actress Award at the 2nd Chinese Film Media Awards with the movie Forty Men. In 2003, Anita Mui died of cervical cancer complicated by lung failure at the age of 40. As of November 2022, Anita Mui is the only person to have won all three of the Golden Image Award, the Golden Horse Award, and the Golden Needle Award.

Life roles

Anita Mui was born into a struggling family, the youngest child in her family. With her father dying when Mui was a small child, his death forced the family to find every means possible to earn money and survive in a capitalistic Hong Kong. At the tender age of 5, Mui began to sing and perform at Chinese Opera theaters, and later, dropping her education in her second year of junior high school, in order to support and care for her family.[1] Eventually, Mui was able to find her niche in the entertainment market, gaining fans and supporters all the while working off the family’s debt. This led to her big break in 1982, winning the New Talent Singing Competition. [1][2]

With her growing fame, Mui began her singing career. Her songs and soundtracks acclaimed a large amount of success, awarding her many awards, which only contributed to her success. With the growth of her singing career, she eventually developed into an icon of Cantopop.[1] Her status as an icon was due to the fact that her singing prowess, combined with her radical choice of bold and provocative costumes established her as a trailblazer for Cantopop to develop into a more progressive and liberal field. As Mui gained international fame, her nickname “Madonna of the East”, represented the fact that she was a trailblazer for Cantopop on the international stage. [1]

Anita Mui expressing support for student pro-democracy movement

In conjunction to her career as a singer, Mui then parlayed her fame into the field of acting, starring in films such as Rogue. As she had already developed icon status through her songs and musical career, her role as an actor was particularly popular right from the beginning. Mui was given leading roles quickly, as she had accumulated awards quickly for her supporting roles that she had acted in beforehand. Her acting career and overall fame had sparked many rumors to be spread by tabloids, some accusing her of being addicted to drugs, and having tattoos. Her role in the media was so large that she was used to create headlines in order for people to buy into the tabloids.[2][3]

Another significant role that Mui took upon was the role of a philanthropist and activist. One of the most significant causes she supported was the rallies for democracy following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that occurred in Mainland China. Mui often used her role as a singer in order to send messages of democracy, singing at the 1989 Hong Kong concert for Chinese Democracy.[4] Her political activism and philanthropy were often boosted by her position of being a popular star in Hong Kong, as it would gain the support of many people in attendance of her events. She would often stand against the Chinese authorities, infuriating them in ways such as performing her hit song "Bad Girl", in 1995, at a concert in Guangzhou[5].

Screen roles

In two decades, Mui starred in over forty films, her film career beginning in 1983. Mui claimed many accolades during her film career, even when she was acting in a supporting role, she was able to shine brightly in her works. The first of these awards was presented to her at the Hong Kong film awards for her work in the 1984 film Behind the Yellow Line, in which she starred alongside Cantopop icon Leslie Cheung. The following years after this first award saw other  Mui receive other rewards, including the prestigious Best Actress Award at the Golden Horse Awards and the Hong Kong Film awards.[6]

Some of Mui’s most radical roles included her role in the 1990 movie Kawashima Yoshiko, which saw Mui star in the titular role as a flamboyant cross-dressing spy.[7] Similar to her role in Kawashima Yoshiko, her role in the 1996 movie Who’s the Woman, Who’s the Man, a movie that saw gender bending in a love triangle story.[8] Both of these movies were particularly liberal in terms of what was socially acceptable for women acting. I argue that it was due to Mui’s own flamboyant and defiant personality that led to the casting of her in such roles that would otherwise be unacceptable for other actresses. In 1997, Mui’s role in Eighteen Springs, was considered more radical, as her role as the charming Emperor Qi was rather lewd.

Anita Mui in Kawashima Yoshiko (1990)

One of the films that helped Mui’s international recognition was her performance with Jackie Chan, in the 1994 movie The Legend of Drunken Master and the 1995 movie Rumble in the Bronx.[9] These movies were distributed more worldwide, as Jackie Chan had begun developing a presence in the international movie scene, especially in Hollywood. This boost in international fame also brought Mui’s recognition in her musical achievements, and gave more exposure to her singing prowess.

A notable anomaly among the lists of works that Mui participated in during her years active as an actor was a movie that she was meant to star in, but did not.[3] Well-known Chinese director Zhang Yimou had casted Mui in his 2004 movie, House of the Flying Daggers, however, due to her complications with cervical cancer, she was forced to resign from her role.[3][10] Due to her inability to film and her death shortly after, out of respect, Zhang Yimou decided on removing Mui’s character completely, and dedicated the movie in her memory. This example distinguishes Mui’s screen roles from the rest, as a famed director had changed the whole tone of his movie out of respect for Mui. The role, it seems, represented Zhang Yimou’s impression of Anita, and that the role was hers, and hers alone. [11][10]

Substantive analysis of the celebrity's profession

Critical film analysis: the link between Anita Mui and her role Fleur in Rouge

Rouge is a milestone film in Anita Mui's acting career. In 1987, she was crowned the queen of Taiwan's "Golden Horse Awards" with a film. Anita Mui played the courtesan Fleur in the film, who fell in love with Chan, a rich young master. Fleur's life experience is just like Anita Mui's "like a dream and a moon". Influence cannot be allowed by the times at that time. Therefore, Fleur in the movie is adrift, lonely, lonely, unable to have a secure relationship. In the film, Fleur and Chan meet to die in love, and Chan chooses to live. Dreams about idealized love are shredded, and the film reveals its real but ugly side.

Anita Mui's role in Rouge (1987)

Anita Mui has a famous song called "Blossom". The blossom women in the song are erratic and swaying with the wind in the chaotic world, longing for a sincere feeling that can make her bloom. The Fleur played by Anita Mui and her role in reality are somewhat similar to such blossom women. She has always longed for love, but the road to love has been bumpy. She has encountered emotional deception and betrayal similar to Fleur, and her emotional belonging has never been settled. In addition, Fleur and Anita Mui's personalities are strong, staunch, daring to love and hate. Of course, the roles of Anita Mui and Fleur also have contradictions. For example, Fleur is more feminine and soft, more in line with traditional Chinese femininity, and has a more ideal and destructive attitude towards love, while Anita Mui's temperament is more rebellious and bold. and tough.

Adapted from Li Bihua's novel, the film describes a love story that took place in Hong Kong in the 1930s and 1980s. Facing the new political and economic systems, Hong Kong people are facing great confusion and panic. Anita Mui, on the other hand, faced Hong Kong's relatively turbulent social and historical background full of various natural and political crises, and showed tenacity, righteousness and great love. She always entertained the audience on stage and on the screen, condensing the strength of the collective. In addition, Anita Mui devoted her life to various public welfare activities, and used most of her property in her acting career for charity, which showed her commitment to Hong Kong society and her great love for the country.

Professional Contributions

Cantopop and Hong Kong Music Industry Contributions

Anita marrying the stage in her iconic last performance

Anita Mui's contributions to the genre of Cantopop and the Hong Kong music industry as a whole have been extremely significant when examining her career as a whole. From her humble beginnings singing at small theaters and bars, Mui was able to catapult her to the forefront of Cantopop, winning numerous accolades and awards from the albums that she had released in the 1980s. Some of her awards and accolades included the RTHK Top 10 Gold Songs Awards in 1983 and 1984, Top 10 Jade Solid Gold Best Female Singer Award, the Gold Songs Gold Award.[2][12] Her best selling album Bad Girl broke records in 1985, selling 400,000 copies, reaching platinum 8x by Hong Kong's standards.[2] While her popularity surged immensely in Hong Kong, her international fanbase grew simultaneously, in turn growing and exhibiting Cantopop and the Hong Kong Music Industry to the world. Her popularity and fame was so immense that following her retirement from creating music, the Hong Kong Music Industry feared that it would be unable to maintain its standing and popularity in the international music stage.[13]

Her awards and accolades translated into extremely popular and successful concerts and live performances. Combined with a striking, dynamic and intense stage persona, she revolutionized stage performance for Cantopop singers alike. Her performance and costumes were bold and radical in comparison to the previously more conservative performers. One of her most iconic acts was that she decided to marry the stage in her last concert, shortly before her death in 2003, solidifying her status as a bold and striking diva. The years following Mui's revolutions to live performances in Hong Kong saw many of the on-stage performers dress in more striking and intense costumes, resembling the style that Mui had created in Hong Kong. These striking costumes and performance resembled more and more like Western styled concerts, thus one can argue that Mui contributed in modernizing Cantopop from its previously conservative performances.

Film Industry Contributions

Anita Mui is often seen as a trailblazer during her time as an actor, her contributions towards film culture in Hong Kong are significant. Mui's tendency to be radical and take on roles that were traditionally not meant for women, or challenge the socially conservative values. Her roles in Kawashima Yoshiko, Eighteen Springs and Who's the Woman, Who's the Man, all challenged the conservative social values that existed in Hong Kong. Ideas such as gender roles were well defined even outside of film, while her role in gender play in Who's the Woman, Who's the Man directly challenged the existing social norms. Mui being bold enough to accept and portray these roles was able to ease the Hong Kong film industry in to a more liberal era. Toppled with award winning performances in Eighteen Springs, this only boosted Mui's case of being more liberal, as her provocative and lewd portrayal of Emperor Qi would open the floodgates for other performers to embrace these controversial roles. Not only does this expose the Hong Kong film industry to more liberal ideas, it also distinguishes Hong Kong films from different Asian film markets. As these actions would be able to spearhead these ideas into other consumer countries, these values would bring Hong Kong cinema closer to Western filmmaking, which would in turn, bring back more exposure and revenue to the Hong Kong cinema industry.

Awards Won By Anita Mui (Film)
Year Event Award/Honor Nominated Works
1982 New Talent Singing Awards First Place The Windy Season (by Paula Tsui)
1985-89 Top 10 Jade Solid Gold Best Female Singer -
1989 Top 10 Jade Solid Gold Gold Sunset Melody
1985 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Supporting Actress Behind the Yellow Line
1988 Golden Horse Awards Best Leading Actress Rouge
1989 Asia Pacific Film Festival Best Actress Rouge
1989 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress Rouge
1998 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Supporting Actress Eighteen Springs
1998 Golden Bauhinia Awards Best Supporting Actress Eighteen Springs
1998 RTHK Awards Golden Needle -
2002 Golden Deer Awards Best Actress July Rhapsody

Key societal, economic, political, moral, and historical forces that influenced the celebrity’s career

The rise of capitalism

Hong Kong had been a British colony since 1841. Owing to its geographical advantages as a port city that connects China and the world, Hong Kong experienced fast social and economic development under British rule. It was believed that the city had entered a “highly commercial capitalist society” in the 1980s,[14] when Anita Mui first became active and steadily rose to fame. Although Anita initially took the rather conventional route common in the 70s, singing slow and sentimental songs and also theme and interlude songs in TV dramas and cartoons, it was not until she presented herself in a more diverse, progressive and eye-catching artistic style that she was recognized as a true star, turning into “Anita Mui of a hundred changes.”[14] Analyzing the rise of capitalism in Hong Kong, there are 2 main factors that contributed to “Anita Mui of a hundred changes.”

On the one hand, following the reduced influence of the TV industry in the 1980s, stars no longer had to rely on the productions by TV stations, meaning that they became more independent artists and had more autonomy in deciding their public images.[14] At the time, record companies also flocked into the Hong Kong market and competed with each other to “supply” the stars that were most customized to market needs using different strategies. It was then that the Hong Kong entertainment industry entered the “star packaging” era.[3][14] In fact, Anita Mui’s “a hundred changes” would probably not become possible without the help of her fashion designer Eddie Lau[3].

On the other hand, economic prosperity brought about consumerism and individualism, which in turn encouraged emotional purchases, personal desires and expressions.[14] As a result, Anita Mui’s self-confidence, a sense of so-whatness, and freedom shown through her wild looks and performances met people’s needs for sensation seeking and resonated with the inner world of many people in Hong Kong, especially those who were young. Thus, despite controversies, Anita Mui’s “a hundred changes,” which was demanded by the market, was spoken highly of.[14]

Changing status of women in the patriarchal system

Social development and economic growth provided a better environment for women to achieve independence and pursue their dreams. Anita Mui herself was just one of the women who made a success through her own effort in 1980s Hong Kong, growing from a little girl singing for a living to a renowned Cantopop diva.

Echoing the improved status of women in Hong Kong, Anita Mui often presented herself in a way that challenged gender stereotypes in her performances, lyrics, and movies.[15] For example, she entered public sight with short hair, sang lyrics that expressed sexual desire, played a dominant female military officer, and even seduced another woman in her movie, depicting homosexuality.[11]

However, in a Confucian-based Asian society, Hong Kong’s music industry was still male-dominated and conservative.[11] In a period where “whether your song would go viral depended on the radio station… So you had to treat the DJs to a meal,”[16] Anita Mui’s famous song “Bad Girl” was censored by the government radio RTHK (Radio-Television Hong Kong) because of its sensual lyrics.[17] When she held her concerts in Guangzhou and sang the song as an encore in one of the early shows, the remainder of the tour was subjected to cancellation.[18] Therefore, despite being embraced by many audiences, Anita Mui’s gender-nonconforming artistic styles faced a lot of obstacles.

Searching for a Hong Kong identity in historical changes

Hong Kong, while being colonized by the British, was governed under a rather non-interventionist policy where it promoted neither Chinese nationalism nor rigorous British assimilation.[3] Consequently, the Hong Kong region was able to reserve a free space for its cultural development, which, nevertheless, also caused confusion and urged Hong Kong people to search for a Hong Kong identity.[3] Hong Kong people’s exploration of a regional identity was embodied in their popular culture products[3].

Many people, being influenced by the Hong Kong 1967 leftist riots occurring in the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution, did not wish to become a “mainlander”, and thus turned to popular cultures in other countries.[3] From the 70s to the early 80s, Japan, which was in some way similar to Hong Kong, being “both Asian and Western,” “traditional and modern,” was a model that Hong Kong looked up to.[14] For Anita Mui, many of her songs were adapted from Japanese songs. In the album “Bad Girl” alone, nearly 1/3 of the songs were written by Japanese composers.[16] Meanwhile, Hong Kong people also looked to the Western world. American singer Madonna, for example, gained much popularity with her rebellious character and gorgeous public image. Being called “Madonna of the East,” Anita Mui’s bold performances, appearances and styles not only satisfied the desire for self-liberation of the young generation, but also their desire to draw a clear line with the Chinese in mainland China, which was believed to be conservative and backward.[14]

The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, however, forced the people of Hong Kong to reconsider their relationship with mainland China, and prepare themselves for an unknown post-colonial future of Hong Kong.[14] At that time, a good number of movies dealt with themes such as controversial identity issues, including those starred by Anita Mui. For example, in the film Kawashima Yoshiko, the protagonist constantly has to ponder over her identity, which is sometimes Chinese, and sometimes Japanese.

The student pro-democracy movement in 1989 was another important historical event that had a profound influence on Hong Kong people’s identity question. CCP’s repression of the movement by violence roused Hong Kong citizens’ strong feelings of sympathy and fear, and Anita Mui at the time played the role of a pro-democracy activist and a comforter.[14] She was a leading singer in the famous “All for Freedom” fundraising recording project and toured overseas to stage fundraising concerts.[14] In our view, Anita Mui’s public service activities fostered not only a closer relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, but also a deeper connection with herself and the Hong Kong people. Speaking of her career, it helped Anita Mui build a positive public image as well.

Reception of the celebrity

"Hong Kong Daughter Anita Mui" Bronze Statue

Reception in Hong Kong

Growing up in a poor single-parent family, Anita Mui dropped out of school early and performed songs and operas in various kinds of venues. In the first a few years after her debut, there were rumors about her taking drugs and having tattoos, with the media making associations with her skinny figure and early work experiences at places like bars and night clubs.[16] Nevertheless, she earned her own reputation by her hard work, persistence, and talent in music performances and film acting. After her death, local people began to call her “the Daughter of Hong Kong.” It has much to do with the “Lion Rock Spirit” derived from the 1972 TV drama Below the Lion Rock[19], in which the characters are grassroots Hong Kong citizens who work hard to make a better living and witness the thriving development of the city. Essentially, the Lion Rock Spirit believes that “no matter how tough the environment, Hongkongers could work hard together to strive for the betterment of livelihoods”. [3][20] Therefore, Anita Mui who came from a humble background and became a legendary success through her own tireless effort, is an exemplary Hong Kong citizen who possessed the spirit.

Reception in mainland China

Anita Mui is also very well-known in mainland China. In particular, when the Chinese media mentions Anita Mui, her patriotism is frequently applauded, citing her interview in which she asserted that she was a Chinese and appealed to people in Hong Kong to get together and support the country to not let the foreigners to look down upon the Chinese.[21] With the strong nationalism in China, Anita Mui’s accounts are often used to counter the views for Hong Kong independence. Interestingly, Anita Mui’s images appeared on LED walls and landmarks in several locations in China on the 38th anniversary of her triumph at the New Talent Singing Contest as a reward for being a winner of a major idol ranking on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, showing her popularity among the younger generations in mainland China.[11]

Reception in the globe

Even around the world, Anita Mui enjoyed a lot of fame. For example, there is an Anita Mui fan club in South Korea, which claims to have approximately 1300 members (2006 statistics).[22] In fact, Anita Mui was once so popular in South Korea that she performed live at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.[23] The nickname "Madonna of the East" stemmed from a sold out concert Mui performed in Hammersmith, London, England, bringing her even more fame and recognition in international media.[9] On Netflix, there are eight movies starring Anita Mui available in English subtitles.[24] In 2021, a recent dramatic biopic detailing Mui's life was released on the streaming platform Disney+, for viewers all around the world.

Critical literature review

Cultural Fetishism of Hong Kong in the 1980s: The Case of Anita Mui by Kin-Chung Hui[14]

Hui’s monograph is a study on the cultural fetishism reflected in Anita Mui’s text, namely, her performance and the media discourse on her life on and off stage. Borrowed from psychoanalysis, the fetishism here in simplest terms refers to a person’s finding of a symbolic substitute for something that is lacked and therefore wanted. As Hui argues, Anita Mui’s text is reevaluated and reinterpreted repeatedly across different historical situations, in which the public and her worshippers derived and continue to derive imaginary forms of Anita Mui from their own personal drives.

Most importantly, Hui demonstrates how people project their own values, desires, confusion and fear onto the image of Anita Mui. According to Hui, Anita Mui’s images generally fall into four conflicting categories: progress and decadence, competition and dedication, challenge and obedience, and China and non-China. While people regarded her hard work and success as a symbol of Hong Kong spirit, their sensation seeking and indulgence in pleasure were also satisfied in enjoying Mui’s wild performances. The media highlighted her ambition in gaining more and climbing higher, but also depicted her as a dedicator and comforter by making sense of some of her songs and her personal relationships. In love, she sometimes exerted power over men and sometimes was a tender woman who wished to “serve the husband and tend the children.” When it comes to Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China, her performances in one period were believed to help draw a clear line between the two regions, but in another period, she strived to connect the people on the mainland and the island and explicitly claimed to be a Chinese.

By analyzing the historical and cultural background, the audience’s internal needs, and Anita Mui’s text per se, Hui attempts to disentangle the numerous layers and elements attached to Anita Mui’s image and understand the cultural fetishism behind a celebrity’s fame.

Anita Mui's queer image on stage

Bad Girl, Femme Fatale, and the Androgynous Body: Cantopop Queen Anita Mui’s Gender Game by Josephine Y. Y. Lai[11]

In her article, Lai examines Anita Mui’s unconventional image that challenges the gender norms in the patriarchal society through her performances and music products, focusing on the collaborative and independent construction of her image on stage. Specifically, Lai conducts an extensive analysis on two of Mui’s milestone shows, the Ever-changing Anita Mui Farewell Concert 1991/92, and the Anita Mui Fantasy Gig 2002. In the 1991/92 concert, Anita Mui’s “bad girl” and “femme fatale” personae reached to another height, and she achieved a “fusion” of the two genders with her performance and the androgynous attire (Lai 171).[11] Being the first concert of which the production was under Anita Mui’s full control, it also confirmed Mui’s subjectivity in her artistic works as she matured.

Camp Stars of Androgyny: A Study of Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui’s Body Images of Desire by Natalia Siu‐hung Chan[15][3]

In this paper, Chan examines the gender performances of Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui in Hong Kong popular culture, drawing on discourse of body politics and sexuality theory. Chan discusses Anita Mui's feminine masculinity on stage and in performance, as well as her gender representation as a cross-dresser in film. Specifically, Chan explores the complexity of Anita Mui's gender construction by analyzing the multifaceted roles played by Anita Mui on stage. In addition, he also discussed Anita Mui's cross-dressing performances and queer images in various types of films, such as Kawashima Yoshiko (1990) and A Better Tomorrow 3: Love & Death in Saigon (1989), and the figure of the cross‐dresser in Wu Yen (2001). In her view, Mui uses a camp, queer identity and performativity to construct a multi-layered space, using androgynous images to create a contagious visual aesthetic.

Mapping Sociopolitical and Cultural Changes through “The Daughters of Hong Kong” from Anita Mui to Denise Ho by Vicky Ho and Miranda Ma[20]

In the article, Ho and Ma analyze and illustrate some of the changes in the larger sociopolitical and cultural context of Hong Kong by describing the legend of Anita Mui as Hong Kong's daughter. The authors analyze the origin of the title Hong Kong's Daughter, the nationalist songs sung by Anita Mui and the recognition of racial identity, and the strong alignment of Anita Mui's story with the official and neoliberal discourse of Hong Kong's core values. The authors conclude that Anita Mui, the daughter of Hong Kong, highlights the social values and attitudes that Hong Kong citizens generally or urgently need in the era. In addition, the authors compare Anita Mui's political orientation as a daughter of Hong Kong with that of Denise Ho, explaining the changing environment of Hong Kong society and the values that Hong Kong people have in such an environment.

Hong Kong Cantopop- A Concise History- Chapter 5 The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, The 1990s by Yiu Wei Chu[13]

In this chapter of Chu Yiu Wei's ''Hong Kong Cantopop- A Concise History,'' Chu touches upon the 1990s, which saw the gradual ends of several Cantopop megastars, such as Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam. The 90s also saw the gradual reduction and eventually exit of Anita Mui from the entertainment scene as well. Chu notes the popularity and exposure that Cantopop gained during this period of time, then speaks to the continuation of Cantopop culture following the exit of these notable megastars. Notably, following the 80s generation of megastars which brought great exposure and popularity to Cantopop, Chu speaks to the effectiveness of the Four Heavenly Kings and the Heavenly Queens, which were a group of male and female artists that succeeded in carrying the flame of Cantopop. Chu notes that while these stars already began their careers in the 1980s, it was due to the fame of megastars like Anita Mui or Leslie Cheung that overshadowed these smaller stars. As a result of their overshadowing, Chu iterates the idea that these Heavenly Kings and Queens struggled to carry the flame, and thus relied on crossing genres of music, such as dabbling into Mandapop, in order to maintain relevancy on the worldwide stage. Chu then also discusses concepts such as piracy and economic concerns such as the Asian financial crisis for being the reasons of Cantopop's downfall.

Critical debates

Anita Mui’s femininity: unorthodox or traditional?

Anita Mui in androgynous attire vs. wedding dress

Anita Mui’s image as an unconventional woman on and off stage in late 20th century Hong Kong has long been a center of discussion for critical scholars. Among them, Chan’s article takes a close look at Anita Mui’s movies, where she played various female roles with gender nonconforming characteristics and even a male role, showing an “androgynous aura.”[15] Similarly, Lai examines Anita Mui’s unorthodox femininity in song lyrics, album covers, performances and so on, but takes one step further – Lai takes into account Anita Mui’s personal image in addition to the professional image, and admits the traditional and reserved side also present in Anita Mui as a person.[11] Despite non-identical personalities of Anita Mui on stage and off stage, Lai emphasizes Mui’s initiative in and control over her music and concert production toward the later phase of her career, praising her as a trend setter for later female stars in the industry.[11]

In fact, the “traditional-unorthodox Anita Mui” controversy Lai touches on is a hotly debated one frequently appeared in public media. Although neither of Chan nor Lai’s articles manages to give a full picture of the issue, in Hui’s thesis, adopting a macroscopic view, the author investigates the news reports at the time and delves into the social and ideological contexts behind them.[14]

According to Hui, the news reports on Anita Mui’s femininity generally went in a dualistic fashion. On the one hand, the public were able to see an Anita Mui that was independent and powerful. With respect to relationships, she would be the one to choose instead of waiting to be chosen, and she would not fixate on a failed relationship; she judged men, made decisions for men, and gave them life guidance. On the other hand, the media were keen on depicting her as a woman ready to become a “good wife and loving mother.” They put an emphasis on Anita Mui’s love affairs, spreading rumors about her personal relationships with the males around her. Her words on wishing to get married and have a baby and disapproval to trial marriage and polygamy were frequently circulated.[11] Even the woman sexual desire suggested in her performances was rationalized in multiple ways, including describing it as a form of art, and adding innocent “angels” or children into her performance to wash out the sexual desire.[14]

The conscious sexual desire and a woman’s power over men in intimate relationships provoked and frightened the masses in the traditional patriarchal society. As a result, they endeavored to portray an “appropriate femininity” in their imagination, a woman who is tender, submissive, and chaste.[3] Anita Mui’s unorthodoxy in her performances therefore must be subject to regulation and be compromised by her traditional personal depictions off stage. [11]Undoubtedly though, the media’s intense interest in Anita Mui’s personal life, romantic relationships in particular, may also be partly attributed to the sense of voyeurism that people enjoyed by peeping at a celebrity off stage. Meanwhile, Anita Mui’s failure and frustration in her relationships and her hope to have a happy and loving family also resonate with Gabler’s idea of celebrities being “touchingly ordinary,”[25] which strikes a chord with ordinary people in the 80s and 90s.  

In our opinion, just like the female characters in the film New Woman (1935)[26], Anita Mui is also a new woman. She resembles Wei Ming in that they were both financially independent, and they were both victims of slanderous news media and died in the flower of their age. But thanks to the better social environment of Anita Mui’s time, she was able to carve out a niche in the Cantopop industry and persevered with her performance until the end – spiritually, she had defeat cancer and become a human model that continues to inspire people who read her story. Anita Mui also resembles Ah Ying in her will to help people in need. She cared about not only people around her, but also people around the world, especially the disadvantaged. No matter if it was an unknown staff member she met, a fellow actress that was kidnapped (Carina Lau), or the students oppressed in the June Fourth incident, she would try her best to offer help.[16] We believe that this is the woman power that Anita Mui presented to the world.

Anita Mui as a spiritual symbol: a real person or the political imagination of the people

Anita Mui is called "the daughter of Hong Kong." Many of her fans and the people of Hong Kong believe that Anita Mui's legendary experience and the spirit left by her outstanding character can represent the city of Hong Kong. Times affect individuals, and the spirit left by "superstars" can also affect the spiritual outlook of an era.

Anita Mui's fame is inseparable from Hong Kong's economic development. For example, with the change of colonial policy, the civil class in Hong Kong has risen, but because of the turbulent political situation and policy changes, many Hong Kong people are in chaos and confusion. Anita Mui was born ordinary, but with her tenacious will and extraordinary talent, the successful path from the grassroots to the elite happened to be the inspirational idol needed by the times. Her persistence in public welfare, her commitment to Hong Kong society and the country, her support to the younger generations, and her professionalism in art are becoming a shining portrayal of the city of Hong Kong in the cracks of history. In fact, the political imagination of Anita Mui is not entirely based on the real person Anita Mui and her deeds. According to Li’s article, regardless of whether these imaginations are real or not, as long as they meet some basic facts and political needs, they can be spread in the public context and become a kind of “social emotion”[16] and “a force to comfort people’s hearts.”[16][3]

In our opinion, whether in Hong Kong society back then or now, Anita Mui not only represents the character itself, but also a vivid symbol, a synonym for a legendary story, and Hong Kong people projected the collective memory of a generation on her[3]. The care and great love shown by Anita Mui enriched the spiritual power of Hong Kong.

Anita Mui and her fellow Cantopop Megastars: beneficial or detrimental for Cantopop?

The 1980s saw the rise of Cantopop megastars such as Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam and Anita Mui herself.[13] Their efforts and works in Cantopop escalated the genre's popularity around the world, evident with Anita Mui's nickname "Madonna of the East". However, with their gradual exit from the scene, the void that they left in the entertainment scene was a seemingly difficult task to fill.

Chu's article highlights the social and cultural issues that Cantopop faced in the 90s; the lead megastars were exiting the scene in conjunction with the growing Mandapop culture, Cantopop faced an uphill battle as the Heavenly Kings and Queens could not rely on solely on Cantopop in establishing a name for themselves. Chu noted that, unlike Mui, who was able to establish herself on an international stage with her moniker as "Madonna of the East", the Heavenly Kings and Queens instead had to rely on crossing over to the competing genre of Mandapop, in order to generate a strong enough fanbase.[9] It was through this reversal of pulling and attracting fans that differentiated the generation of stars that followed Anita Mui. In a sense Chu's argument here is that because the 1980s saw these megastars burning so brightly, their extreme popularity set the bar too high for the following generation to keep up, resulting in the downfall. In a sense, it's possible to extract the idea that Cantopop was a representation of the Hong Kong culture on the worldwide stage, and while the rise of Cantopop put Hong Kong on the map with other international cultures, the fall represented Hong Kong's culture of inability to procure it's future, and thus also left a sour taste on the identity of Hong Kong itself. [13]

The contrasting opinion of the stardom is that although their eventual megastardom would play into the downfall of Cantopop, the fact that they broke into the international market would be able to set a foundation for the other smaller stars to work from. Chu's article did also note that the Heavenly Kings and Queens were created in order to carry on the mantle of Cantopop.[13] While doing so, it showed that there was a willingness in maintaining the popularity of Cantopop and keeping Hong Kong relevant and maintaining the status of Hong Kong as a transnational city, through the use of celebrity icons.

In our opinion, the rise of megastars like Anita Mui did benefit Hong Kong in the long run. These megastars were able to build a solid foundation for Cantopop to continue and maintain its presence in transnational media, as it forced Hong Kong to develop and procure more icons, which they did succeed with the Heavenly Kings and Queens, along with other bands such as Beyond.[13] However, when comparing the Heavenly Kings and Queens with their predecessors, it is very noticeable that they were not able to achieve the same level of fame without crossing over to other genres. This is crucial as it somewhat dilutes the sense of Hongkonger by transgressing into other genres like Mandapop. This does play well into the quickly transforming landscape of entertainment media following the 1990s, as the processes of globalization did benefit with these stars being able to fit in different genres and cultures, which would in return, represent the idea that Hong Kong was a transnational city within a global community.


From a little girl performing at the Lai Yuen Amusement Park to a legendary Cantopop star, Anita Mui’s story is an inspiration for a lot of people. In this biography, we first explored various life roles and screen roles of Anita Mui, analyzing the award-winning film Rouge, her professional contributions to the industry and receptions around the world, and then took a critical look at the social, historical and ideological forces that made her career. We discovered that the rise of capitalism and improving status of women were the bases for her success, which at the same time also shaped her image as the “ever-changing Anita Mui.” We also became aware of the impact that major historical events had on her music and performance styles, film themes and fundraising concerts. As a person, Anita Mui brought warmth to people around her, inspired ordinary people and contributed to philanthropy. As an artist, Anita Mui was a model in serious acting and singing, and set the trend for performances that were unconventional and challenged gender norms.

By examining the scholarly debates, we realized that a celebrity image was often not objective – it is sometimes the projection of the audience’s subjective desires in a particular social and historical context that leads to the imagination of a celebrity image[3]. It is important for understanding Chinese celebrities because it reminds scholars to take into account multiple sides when studying one issue as well as the societal and ideological background to see an all-around picture. Future research may consider comparative studies on Anita Mui and contemporary celebrities in mainland China or Taiwan to investigate the impact of social context, or on Anita Mui and contemporary Hong Kong celebrities to research on the reasons behind people’s similar or different reactions to the celebrities.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "HK pop diva Anita Mui dies of cancer". December 30, 2003. |first= missing |last= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Anita Mui: Number One and Only". May 1 2008. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). |first= missing |last= (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Lai, Josephine YY (2021). "From "bad girl" to "daughter of Hong Kong" : Anita Mui and the Phenomenon of Stardom in Hong Kong popular culture". HKU MPhil thesis.
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  12. "RTHK 1983 Award".
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  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Li, Zhanpeng; Zhuo, Nan (Eds.) (2014). 最后的蔓珠莎华:梅艳芳的演艺人生 (The Last Cluster Amaryllis: Anita Mui’s Art and Life). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing HK. ISBN 9789620434945.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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