- Canto-pop singer Anita Mui Yim-fong used her star power for good during the 2003 Sars outbreak despite struggling with health and personal problems
- Charitable work and social activism were important to Mui throughout her life - she even helped dissidents escape mainland China after Tiananmen
When the Sars virus broke out in Southern China and spread to Hong Kong in early 2003, Canto-pop star Anita Mui Yim-fong was " like all of the city's residents " alarmed.
By the end of March that year, the number of cases had risen past 1,000 and more than 50 people had died.
It was a tough time for the city " and for Mui personally, too. The singer was still reeling from the loss of her older sister from ovarian cancer in 2000 " and suffering from cervical cancer herself " when one of her close friends, fellow singer Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, took his own life on April 1.
It was then that she decided to take action.
Over dinner, after Cheung's funeral, Mui hashed out her plans with Tina Liu Tian-lan, a style consultant and media maven. "Tian-lan, we should do something, shouldn't we?" Liu remembers Mui telling her.
"She wanted to raise funds for the families affected by Sars. I said we should find media backing, thus I called (Hong Kong newspaper) Ming Pao," Liu recalls. "When we were done eating, we knew we had started (something)."
Mui was the then president of the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild, and Liu was vice-president. The guild was very active in both social and professional outreach during Mui's tenure from 2001-03.
A concert and other fundraising work was then organised to help the families of Sars victims, which would help ensure the continued education of children whose parents were sick or had died. The 1:99 concert (named after the bleach-to-water ratio that health officials recommended for an anti-Sars cleaning solution) brought together more than two dozen singers and bands, including Andy Lau Tak-wah, Jacky Cheung Hok-yau and Kelly Chen Wai-lam, at Hong Kong Stadium on May 24, 2003. It raised HK$17 million.
So when the latest coronavirus began spreading first around China and then around the world, I wondered: what would Anita do if she were still with us?
I was first introduced to Mui's music by a worker at the Phoenix International Bookstore in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in 2011. Soon after arriving in China to study, I visited the music section of the multistorey store and asked for a recommendation of a "classic Chinese singer". The employee suggested a two-disc set of Anita Mui hits, Unmatched Beauty.
I instantly fell in love with her. Mui's voice had a unique energy and was full of passion. Even though my Chinese wasn't exactly fluent at the time (and my Cantonese non-existent), I understand her music expressed deep emotions " love found and lost, struggle and salvation, hope, joy, bitterness, regret, and all sentiments in between.
I was even more moved when I read her life story. Mui was the youngest child of a poor family in Mong Kok, and she began singing on the streets at the age of four or five. Denied a childhood, she had to grow up " and fast " in seedy nightclubs and lounges where drunk men looked at the performers as "little songstresses" " a term that carries derogatory undertones.
Her typical schedule was to go to school early, practice after school, sing at a few clubs late into the night, and then struggle over homework. Growing up in such an environment, with such stress, and few friends of own, Mui raised stray dogs, dressed as a boy, played with her brothers' friends, got into fights " and eventually dropped out of school early.
If she wasn't book smart, she acquired a real-world education that would serve her well on stage and screen, and she had charisma and confidence. "She was absolutely smart," Liu says. "And she possessed steady leadership and charm … whatever problem she faced, she believed she could solve it."
Mui owned whatever stage she stood on. She re-appropriated the image of the "songstress" in such songs as Bad Girl, which she sang at a concert in Guangzhou, defying a ban on the track on the mainland. She also broke multiple records for the number of concerts held by a singer, and changed into countless different outfits in a single night, and would continue to do so until her last days.
As Chan Hoi-kei, a DJ and a friend of Mui, says: "Why did everyone feel Anita Mui's music had soul? Because she was the whole thing, not just a singer. She was a person with a heart and soul. She wasn't like people today, who only care about earning money. Anita Mui's dance and make-up is all emblematic of that era. This is called trendsetting, and it's not easy. She influenced the whole city."
Charitable work and social activism were important to Mui throughout her life, as evident by the Anita Mui True Heart Charity Foundation which she formed in 1993. Her heartfelt contributions didn't just stop there, though " Jacky Cheung has spoken before of a time when Mui asked her friends to help her distribute blankets to the homeless.
The 1:99 concert was not the first concert Mui helped organise in the name of fundraising. She took to the stage in 1989 when the Tiananmen Square protests were intensifying, and gave a new meaning to the patriotic song Bloodstained Glory. Later, she used her own money to help dissidents escape the mainland via an underground network called Operation Yellow Bird.
Chan says Anita was a warmhearted person who didn't want credit for her actions. "She wasn't that kind of person. Maybe it had to do with her background. She had been through hardships, so she understood that life is difficult."
Mui, who passed away on December 30, 2003, kept the news of her cancer from her friends and family until she felt it had become necessary to tell them. "It is my duty, as a celebrity, to handle this pressure," she was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying in September 2003, in her first public statement acknowledging she had cancer.
Although the singer sometimes said that she would have preferred to be an "ordinary person", she always put her friends, family, fans and the public first. "Her biggest burden," Chan says, "was simply the three characters (of her name): Mui Yim-fong. But she would often think, 'I am Anita Mui. I can do a little bit here and there. This is my responsibility.'"
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.查看原始文章