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Yao Beina

Yao Beina
MusicRadio2013fan 2.jpg
Born(1981-09-26)26 September 1981
Wuhan, Hubei, China
Died16 January 2015(2015-01-16) (aged 33)
Alma materChina Conservatory of Music
Years active2005–2015[1]
Parent(s)Yao Feng
Li Xinmin
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Musical career
GenresMandapop, folk music, Rock, R&B, Jazz
LabelsYuechao Yinshang (2010-2012)
Huayi Brothers Music (2012-2015)

Yao Beina (simplified Chinese: 姚贝娜; traditional Chinese: 姚貝娜; pinyin: Yáo Bèinà; 26 September 1981 – 16 January 2015), also known as Bella Yao, was a Chinese singer. She participated in Chinese Young Singer Championship in 2008 and won the champion of the pop singing group. She was known as the singer of the theme songs of Empresses in the Palace, Painted Skin: The Resurrection and Back to 1942. She also sang the pop version of Let It Go in Mandarin Chinese in the Disney CGI film, Frozen for the Mandarin Chinese dub when the film was released in China. She competed in The Voice of China television reality show.

Early life

Yao was born to a family of musicians on 26 September 1981 in Wuhan. Her father, Yao Feng, was the former chairman of the Shenzhen Association of Musicians and now serves as the vice chairman of Guangdong Association of Musicians. But at the time of the birth of Yao Beina, he was an Assistant Professor at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. Under the supervision of her parents, she started to take piano lessons at the age of 4. At the age of 6, according to her father, she could precisely tell the note of each key on the piano and sing it out. Eventually she was qualified as a Grade 10 piano player, which is the highest qualification level in China. Her first recording for the local TV station took place at the age of 9, after her father discovered her unique voice when she was singing the national anthem. She continued to sing for galas on the local TV channels as a child star through her teenage years.[2]

Yao went to Wuhan No. 45 Middle school for Junior High School. She was an average student overall. Though excelled in music she had difficulties with the math class. One time after receiving 21% on her math exam, she took a long walk by herself in the city without returning home till very late at night. She later termed this event as the "only major rebellion during her teenage years."[3] She was admitted by the Wuhan Conservatory of Music Affiliated High School for her senior years. Her father became her teacher in popular music. She excelled in all music subject as the number one student of the high school. After her father's job transfer to Shenzhen, there was no teacher left at the high school to teach popular music and her grades became the second last of the school. After a talk with Mrs. Feng, a teacher of Chinese folks music at the high school, Yao quickly adjusted her attitudes and became the number one student again.[2]

In 2000, she was admitted to China Conservatory of Music with Dong Hua, a master of the Chinese folks music, as her mentor.[1][4][5] According to Dong Hua, the most impressive quality of Yao during the admission exam was "her precise notion of the key". "She was quick in understanding, and I decided right away that I wanted to teach her everything I've got."[6]


Yao worked for four years in the Naval Political Department of the Song and Dance Troupe of the People's Liberation Army, after graduating from the acclaimed China Conservatory of Music in 2005.[7] During her servicing in the Troupe, she won the champion in Chinese Young Singer Championship (全国青年歌手电视大奖赛).[8]

When singing "The Spring River" on New Year's Eve Gala of 2011, she combined Tibetan folk style with rock to sing this Chinese folk song, finishing with a G5 note that lasted 7.7 seconds.

She rose to prominence after winning the Chinese Young Singer TV competition Championship in 2008 with the first full mark in history. She performed on the stage of Beijing Olympic Games Closing Ceremony.[9]

In 2009, she left the Troupe and signed with a label called "乐巢音尚" (Yuècháo Yīnshàng). After giving her first concert in Shenzhen in 2010, she released her first album named after herself, Yao Beina (姚贝娜). The songs, mainly composed by herself, received widespread praise.[10] She impressed Liu Huan and got the opportunity to sing the theme song of the TV series Empresses in the Palace. Yao became well-known to the public after she made a series of songs for the hit drama Empresses in the Palace, in 2012.[11] In the same year, Yao was invited by the director Feng Xiaogang to sing the theme song "The River of The Life" (生命的河) of the film Back to 1942.[12] She sang "Love in the Painting" (画情) for Painted Skin: The Resurrection, the highest grossing domestic film in China.[13] As of 2012, she has made songs for 60 TV dramas and films, and performed twice in CCTV New Year's Galas in 2007 and 2010.

Yao returned to CCTV Young Singer TV Competition as the youngest judge of this music show in 2013.[14] In the same year, she released her new album Half of Me (Chinese: 二分之一的我). All of songs in this album topped Baidu Music Chart, making her the No.1 Mandopop Female Singer on Baidu Music.[15] According to the sales and reputation of the album, Yao attained the title "the best female vocalist" on MusicRadio China TOP Charts Awards.[16] She was the first pop solo vocalist performing the finale of CCTV New Year's Gala.[17]

Yao gradually accumulated her fame for singing theme songs of Empresses in the Palace, Painted Skin: The Resurrection and Back to 1942. She was the designated singer of the Mandarin version of Let It Go (at the end of the movie) for the Disney film Frozen.[18] She competed in The Voice of China television reality show.[4] Yao's performance caused an Internet sensation that led to her almost-overnight popularity with the No.1 Internet Searched pop star in the Baidu and Sina Weibo.

Performances in The Voice:[4]

Date Round Song Original Artist
July 13, 2013 Blind Auditions Maybe Tomorrow (也许明天) A-mei
August 16, 2013 The Battle of Team Na Ying Reflection (自己, feating Lin Yu-chun) Lea Salonga
September 13, 2013 The Knockouts of Team Na Ying Maybe still (也许在) Sun Nan
September 20, 2013 The playoffs of Team Na Ying Round 1 Hold (把握) Su Rui
September 20, 2013 The playoffs of Team Na Ying Round 2 Dear Friend Shunza
September 20, 2013 The playoffs of Team Na Ying Round 3 All by Myself Eric Carmen

Illness and death

Yao was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2011.[1][19]

In September 2013, Yao was invited to become the image ambassador for China Pink Ribbon Campaign, which aims to raise awareness of breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor, she was considered the most suitable candidate for the post.[20]

In December of that year, Yao released the song "Fire of the Heart" (心火), which describes her struggle and pain when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 30. "If you never cry in the middle of the night, you will never be qualified to talk about fate… don't ask me why, because I have fought the devil several times," she wrote in the lyrics.[21]

Fortunately, Yao survived, but the cost was high. She underwent a mastectomy and had her left breast removed. "It is a wise choice if you face reality and bravely fight and defeat cancer," Yao said. After the surgery, Yao went through eight sessions of chemotherapy, during which she recorded the songs for Empresses in the Palace.[11]

Yao hoped her story and her songs could bring hope to those suffering from breast cancer. "I hope I can bring strength to people and boost their confidence with my songs," she said. Because of her personal experience, Yao had a solid understanding of the fear and pain that breast cancer patients suffer from, both physically and psychologically. After recovering, Yao joined Pink Ribbon campaign to raise awareness of preventing and treating breast cancer.[20]

As is traditional with this campaign, Yao needed to make a topless poster to remind women to take care of their body and raise the public's awareness of women's breast health. The visceral impact of seeing a woman with an amputated breast, especially in an age saturated in images of commodified female flesh, has proven to be a successful, yet shocking method of raising awareness, among both men and women. Growing up in a relatively conservative society, Yao initially felt nervous, but later relaxed after thinking about "bringing victims courage by doing so." In the autumn of 2013, Yao's posters were posted across the country. Through these posters, Yao wanted to send the message "You can win in the battle against breast cancer."[20]

In September of that year, she visited patients at Beijing Cancer Hospital. Yao also talked with members of the Beijing Cancer Rehabilitation Association. Through these efforts, Yao wanted everyone to know that, "When facing cancer, you have no other choice than to defeat it." On the other hand, Yao understood that many breast cancer sufferers fear that they may lose their breasts. With her personal experiences, Yao sought to show them that breast cancer surgery would not cause more damage than the cancer itself and to help to persuade them to choose proper treatment therapies according to doctor's advice.[22]

In December 2014, Yao had a recurrence of the cancer and her situation was reported to have worsened on 15 January 2015. She died a day later in Shenzhen, Guangdong, aged 33.[23][24] According to her wish, her corneas were donated to two recipients in Shenzhen and Chengdu.[25]

Memorial services were held on 20 January.[26] Her first posthumous album, "Eternal" (永存), was produced by Liu Chia-chang.[27]

Her ashes were interred on 4 September in the Shimenfeng Memorial Park of her place of birth, the city of Wuhan, China, prior to the release of her second posthumous album "Born Proud" (天生骄傲), which was still under production at the time of her death. It was released on what would have been her 34th birthday (26 September 2015) and the celebration of her homecoming. The album was listed as one of the best selling albums in the year list of Jingdong Mall.[28]

Her posthumous single, "Glory" (风光), was released on 16 January 2016 (the one-year anniversary of her death), peaking at No.2 on the QQ Music New Single Chart.[29]

On April 12, 2019, coach Liu Huan sung a medley of three songs dedicated to Yao, on the finals of the seventh season of Singer; his performance was received praise from the panel of audience, and eventually won the competition with over 60% of the votes cast.[30]

Charities and social contributions

As an enlisted member of the Naval Political Department of the Song and Dance Troupe of the People's Liberation Army in 2008, Yao was ordered to help relieve the earthquake zones in Sichuan province, where more than 80,000 people lost their lives. She and her colleagues traveled to the disaster zones and performed for the survivors as well as the PLA soldiers working in the area.[31][32] She personally donated 30,000 RMB (5,000 USD) while her annual salary as an enlisted member was estimated to be less than 15,000 RMB (2,500 USD).[33]

According to later documented interviews with her, she was coping with a long term depression at the moment of the earthquake and she had constant thoughts of death. Due to the depression, she finally left the Troupe after requesting resignation for the third time in 2009.[34]

In addition to cancer awareness activities, Yao also attended an awareness-raising event for the care of children as the "Ambassador of Love" in 2014. Regretting not having any child of her own, possibly because of the cancer, she once commented during an interview: "When you saw all of your friends have children who are old enough to run errands, and post their pictures on the Internet, this was the only time you would feel just a little stimulated."[35]

Her decision came at the end of 2014 to donate her body in case of death. It turned out that before her death in 2015, the metastasis left only her corneas intact and suitable for donation. So far her corneas have helped four patients to recover their visions.[36] Shortly after her death, the number of Chinese people who voluntarily signed organ donation agreement had doubled within a month. This coincides with the government announcement that from the first day of 2015, organ harvesting from executed prisoners was banned in China. The unexpected coincidence was mentioned by the Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, during an TV interview and he said: "Maybe we can still hear her singing in Heaven..."[37]

Her parents auctioned her personal belongings on the Internet after her death. The auction raised 2,510,000 RMB (~400,000 USD) and they were donated to a high school in the Xinjiang province, where Yao Beina and her father had an inspiration for writing a song that incorporated the unique local ethnic music style. The donation was to be dedicated to renovating the school and a scholarship for achievements in music. According to her father, helping the local children was a wish that she had long shared with him.[38]

Asteroid 41981

On April 9, 2015, according to the news released by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the asteroid "41981" was named after Yao Beina. The asteroid was discovered by William Kwong Yu Yeung in 2000, an amateur astronomer from Hong Kong.[39] The International Astronomical Union (IAU) named the asteroid "Yaobeina", which was suggested by Yeung in memory of the singer. NASA describes Yao Beina in its website as "Yaobeina (1981–2015) was a talented and courageous Chinese singer who won numerous awards for the best Chinese pop song performance. One of Yao's songs, "Fire of the Heart", was about the reflections on her battle with breast cancer.[40]


Year Award Category Nomination Result
2008 CCTV-MTV Music Awards Most Popular and Potential Vocalist Bella Yao Won
2010 Chinese Song Chart-Beijing Pop Music Awards Best Female Vocalist Bella Yao Nominated
2010 CCTV-MTV Music Awards Best New Vocalist Bella Yao Nominated
2013 TV Drama Awards Made in China Most Popular Female Vocalist Bella Yao Won
2013 Top Chinese Music Awards Best EP Half of Me (二分之一的我) Won
2013 Female Model Prize Personal Bella Yao Won
2013 Tencent Weibo Awards Most Popular Female Vocalist Bella Yao Won
2013 Sina Weibo Awards Most Popular Female Vocalist Bella Yao Won
2014 CCTV New Year's Gala Awards Most Popular live performance “天耀中华” Won
2014 MusicRadio China TOP Charts Awards Best Female Vocalist Bella Yao Won
2014 MusicRadio China TOP Charts Awards Top 10 Gold Songs Fire of the Heart(心火) Won
2015 Huading Awards Most Popular Female Vocalist Bella Yao Won (posthumous)


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