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Xinyao (Chinese: 新謠; pinyin: Xīnyáo) is a genre of songs that is unique to Singapore.[1] It is a contemporary Mandarin vocal genre that emerged and rose to fame in Singapore between the late 1970s to 1980s.[2] Xinyao songs are composed and sung by Singaporeans and it is an outlet for them to express their thoughts and feelings around themes like friendships or love stories. Xinyao is a Chinese noun comprising two words: Xīn (新) which is an abbreviation for Singapore, and yáo (謠) for song. The extended form is Xīnjiāpō gēyáo (新加坡歌謠), which simply means "Singapore songs".

Xinyao can be clearly identified by its distinctive style of Mandarin genre, that is conveyed through poetic lyrics with clean acoustic accompaniments.[3] Often, a group of people sing and harmonize together,[4] accompanied solely by the guitar. As the movement grew and became semi-commercialized in the early 1990s, more sophisticated accompaniments like drums and castanets were adopted.

Early pioneers of this style of music include Wong Hong Mok, Liang Wern Fook, Dawn Gan, Eric Moo and Billy Koh, who discovered and groomed many successful Singapore artistes in the Asia Chinese-Pop music scene (including Kit Chan, A-Do and JJ Lin).


Birth of Xinyao

In the Chinese music scene, the local xinyao movement started in the mid-1980s and was the source of a number of success stories in today's regional Chinese pop music industry.[5] This genre was started by a group of students (mainly secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics), who were influenced by minyao (民謠), a Taiwanese folk songs movement in the 1970s,[1] school campus songs (校園民歌) from Taiwan. The Taiwanese folk genre sought an authentic native Taiwan identity exemplified by songs such as "Grandma's Penghu Bay" (外婆的澎湖灣). The rise in popularity of the school campus song movement (校園民歌) especially among the Chinese students and schools came at a time of major education reforms led by then Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Mr Goh Keng Swee which sought to streamline and align Chinese education into the national syllabus, which can be interpreted as a spontaneous reaction to assert identity against these changes.

In September 1982, Nanyang Technological University's Chinese-language newspaper, Nanyang Business Daily, organised a seminar titled The Song We Sing (我們唱著歌). The seminar revolved around discussing the emerging trend of xinyao, which was representative of Singaporean composed schoolyard songs at that time. Furthermore, it was also during the 1980s that the term xinyao was coined and popularised in Singapore.[6]

1980s: Peak of Xinyao

Xinyao was considered to be at its peak in the 1980s as the songs propelled many Singaporean singers and songwriters to stardom.[1] It was during this period where many students who loved xinyao gathered and staged their own performances. Some of the earliest xinyao groups includes The Straws (水草三重唱), The Merlion (魚尾獅小組), and Underpass Group (地下鐵小組).[1] This movement soon spread across Singapore, beyond schools and into the public arena such as community centres. Led by The Merlion, which was formed at Clementi Community Centre in 1983, there were more than 20 xinyao groups registered with a neighbourhood community centre by mid-1987 [7]..

Songs such as A Step at a Time written and sung by xinyao artists were popular with those born in the mid-1960s to 1970s. In 1983, the song Encounter, a duet by Moo and Huang Hui-zhen, became the first xinyao song to chart on Yes 933's "Pick of the Pops" (新加坡龍虎榜) chart. The song was part of a xinyao album Tomorrow 21 (明天21) released in 1983-84 and were created by Billy Koh, Koh Nam Seng, Huang Yuan Cheng, Zhang Jia Qiang and Colin Goh, was considered by some fans[8] as the landmark album that brought xinyao to the mainstream media. The creation of this album led to the birth of what would become Ocean Butterflies International,[9] a major Singaporean/Pan-Asian music publishing house.

1990s: Decline of Xinyao

The decline of xinyao began in the early 1990s. Despite constant efforts to promote the xinyao genre such as xinyao concerts and inter-school songwriting competitions, the popularity of xinyao continue to wane. Following the stop of the Xinyao Festival in 1990 due to the lack of funding, the Sing Music Awards was consequently scrapped due to limited album releases.[10] Other factors contributing the decline of xinyao including the rise of Taiwanese and Hong Kong songs in Singapore's music industry,[4] as the declining of new xinyao talents in Singapore.

2000s: Resurgence of Xinyao

Xinyao was revived in the early 2000s when a series of xinyao concerts caught the eye of the public once again. A reunion concert in March 2002 where xinyao pioneers such as Moo, Liang and Gan were featured.[11] Beginning in 2002, an annual xinyao concert featuring xinyao veterans were organised, with Taiwanese singers participating to promote the concert.[12][13]

The revival of xinyao has been attributed to nostalgia for the era among the generations who grew up listening to that music genre. In recent times, Xinyao stirred the interest of the younger generations as well.[14] Reality competitions such as Project SuperStar and Campus SuperStar were also organised in television to promote the xinyao culture.

Today, xinyao is regarded as a key highlight of Singapore's music scene in the 1980s. Although some argue that any current local compositions by young musicians are considered part of xinyao, the term generally refers to the folk genre of songs by Singaporeans that emerged in the 1980s.[15]


The xinyao movement was largely home-grown and enriched the local arts scene in post-war Singapore. It was one of the more notable youth music subcultures in Singapore which outgrew its origins and gained public acceptance as well as support.

As a young nation, Singapore was still in the process of nation building in the 1980s, and different campaigns were constantly launched in search of constructing a national identity and “characteristics” that are unique to Singapore.[16] Using lyrics that relates closely to the daily lives of Singaporean youth, xinyao brought out a music culture that aptly represented Singapore in a unique way.

Social Influences


One of the very crucial and deciding factors that pushed xinyao towards its level of popularity was the increased exposure in radio stations as well as on television. In 1983, there was a weekly half-hour radio programme that was specially dedicated for xinyao and its musicians. The programme was titled Our Singers and Songwriters (歌韻心聲) and started by the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). In the same year, SBC broadened its annual Chinese Talentime (鬥歌競藝) programme, to include a vocal group section. Following its success, it then further expanded to include a local-composition category in 1985. As an effort to promote xinyao, the SBC also used xinyao songs as theme songs for Chinese television drama serials.[17]

The xinyao movement was further strengthened with the release of the first xinyao album in 1984 titled Tomorrow We’ll Be 21 (明天21).

Following its revival, xinyao starts to reappear in the eyes of the public. In 2007, xinyao was showcased in The Chinese-language musical If There're Seasons (天冷就回來), the musical featured 30 of Liang's compositions, of which many were his signature xinyao pieces.[18] In 2015, a xinyao documentary The Songs We Sang was released in Golden Village.

In 2018, a Singaporean reality-competition series organised by Mediacorp, titled SPOP Sing!, targets local students from Singapore in search of finding a homegrown musical talent as well as promoting local music culture of both mandopop and xinyao, as well as paying tribute to modern singers that rose to fame, such as Sing! China finalists Nathan Hartono[19] and Joanna Dong.[20] A competition with a similar format aired in 2013, the fourth season of Campus Superstar, also use only mandopop and xinyao music only during the competition.[21]

National Day Parade

Xinyao songs such as Voices from the Heart (小人物的心聲) were also staged and performance during the 2014 and 2017's National Day Parade in Singapore.

During his Chinese National Day Rally speech in 2014, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong started off by singing to a popular xinyao tune, Small Stream that Flows Forever (細水長流) by Liang[22]


In 2015, a school xinyao programme was introduced by Singapore's Ministry of Education. The programme includes a singing, songwriting competition and media appreciation sessions and songwriting workshops. The aim of the programme is to enhance student's Chinese learning abilities in terms of writing and reading.[23] As part of the effort to revive the xinyao spirit and to help participating students, 20 xinyao music appreciation sessions and 2 songwriting workshops were conducted by veteran xinyao songwriters - Jim Lim, Roy Li, Zhang Lesheng and Tan Kah Beng. The programme can be deemed to be a success as over 10,000 students participated in its 2017 iteration.[24] The success of the programme has also led to the production of SPOP Sing!.[21]

Examples of Xinyao Songs

Year Title Composer Lyricist
1983 邂逅 巫啟賢 黄惠赬
1988 讓夜輕輕落下 梁文福
1986 小人物的心聲 吳佳明 溫雪瑩
1987 細水長流 梁文福
1987 我們這一班 許環良 吳慶康,黃元成
1987 歷史考試的前夕 梁文福
1981 唱一首華初的歌 梁文福
沙漠足跡 張家強 林有霞
1984 寫一首歌給你 梁文福
1984 水的話 顏黎明 梁文福
1988 遺忘過去 巫啟賢 木子
1990 新加坡派 梁文福

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Xinyao | Infopedia".
  2. ^ Miller, Terry E and Sean Williams. In The Garland Handbook of Southeast Asian Music. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  3. ^ Koh, Jamie. Xinyao: Made in Singapore.” National Library Board Singapore, January 22, 2014.
  4. ^ a b The changing face of xinyao over the years. (1994, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  5. ^ Ng, Gwendolyn (August 27, 2015). "Xinyao hits a crescendo". The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  6. ^ 南洋學生主催: 彈彈新謠·談新謠. (1982, September 13). 南洋商报, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. ^ Foo, J. (1989, August 6). In search of the Singapore song. TheStraits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  8. ^ "新谣人张家强 半天谱出经典代表作 |". Archived from the original on 2014-12-22.
  9. ^ "Our History". 12 January 2015.
  10. ^ Guan, L. (1992, May 24). The last strains of xinyao?The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  11. ^ ng, S. (2002, April 1). A show to xinyao ’bout. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  12. ^ 新谣民歌 风采依然. (2002, June 10). 联合早报, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  13. ^ 新谣的文化诉求. (2003, June 30). 联合早报, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  14. ^ Chan, B. (2008, April 25). Xinyao lives on. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. ^ Chan, B. (2013, August 1). Xinyao uniquely Singapore. (2013, August 1). The Straits Times.
  16. ^ Heng, Chye Kiang. “From Architectural Heritage to Identity in Singapore.” In Paper 7, 145-156. 2017.
  17. ^ Koh, S. T. (1987, August 21). Has xinyao gone pop?The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
  18. ^ 王英敏. (Wang, Y. M.). (2007, July 26). 梁文福推出音乐剧. 新民日报. Retrieved from Factiva
  19. ^ "Nathan Hartono finishes second in nail-biting Sing! China final". 7 October 2016. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  20. ^ "Joanna Dong comes in third in Sing! China finals". Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  21. ^ a b "SPOP Sing! on the hunt for next local singing sensation". Archived from the original on May 27, 2018. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  22. ^ "Video: PM Lee sings opening line of xinyao song in National Day Rally | Coconuts Singapore". Coconuts. August 18, 2014.
  23. ^ "National xinyao competition promotes the composition of new songs in the genre". The Straits Times. February 7, 2018.
  24. ^ "Students reliving spirit of xinyao". The Straits Times. August 21, 2017.