70s HK Pop Singer ‘Agnes Chan’ Looks Back on Stardom, Talks Motherhood

Agnes Chan holds up Thai versions of her books.
Agnes Chan holds up Thai versions of her books.

BANGKOK — “We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came / And go round and round and round in the circle game,” sings the sharp, clear voice of a 63-year old woman.

In the 1970s, every teen in Asia was bopping along to Hong Kong teen singer Agnes Chan’s guitar-strummed folk hits, such as puppy-love anthem “You Are 21, I am 16” and soulful “Circle Game.” Bangkok youth flocked to catch a glimpse of her during her numerous concerts and film promotions.

On a recent visit to Khaosod to promote her latest books – an autobiography and a parenting book – middle-aged fans brought their vintage records for their teenage idol to sign after hearing her sing a few lines from one of her old hits.

“I think it is very magical that because of my books, I’m back in Thailand and have the chance to see my fans again,” Chan said.

Available in Thai for the first time, her autobiography “38 Revelations in Life” details her tumultuous teenage years as a star and Japanese emigre. Press followed her avidly when she married a Japanese man in 1985, moved to the island nation – a huge cultural hurdle for a Chinese woman at the time. She then stirred up the “Agnes Controversy” in 1988 by being a publicly working mother there.

Chan says the path for working moms in Japan is still hard, but has improved since her time.

“I think a lot of young women know they can decide their future now. Not everything has to be approved by their husbands, or their fathers, or their brothers,” she said.

In the same year as her working-mom revolution, she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and in 1989 graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in education. She has traveled to Thailand numerous times to raise awareness against child trafficking.

Unlike most parenting books written by Asian mothers, she’s not pushing for Tiger Parenting – authoritarian parenting methods demanding high levels of academic and social achievement.

Despite its title, “50 Education Methods From a Mother Who Put 3 Sons Into Stanford University” is about giving unconditional love and supporting your child’s self-esteem, she says.

“I’m not a Tiger Mom,” she said, laughing. “This book will be a surprise to most parents because actually, you don’t have to be a tiger mom to make your child successful. I don’t care whether they have good grades or if they’re a good student. Most of all, I want them to be happy as a person and at the same time, to give them the skills so that they can succeed.”