TAIPEI Taiwan's top pop singer Chang Hui-mei, once banned from performing in China, is leveraging off a new album to build her reputation in Asia's biggest market, while Beijing officials use her name to improve political ties.
Right after her album A-Mei Star came out in August, Chang appeared on Chinese state TV, performed for 80,000 people at Shanghai's largest music hall and met with Chinese fans.
More China concerts are set for November as Chang, better known as A-Mei, brushes off her one-time ban and vies with an exploding number of other musicians for Chinese fan attention.
Chang stands out because of her strong voice on light rock tracks covering matters such as love and race relations.
"I felt great, because I was very welcomed," Chang said in an interview with Reuters.
"In China, people's music sophistication has made a lot of progress. They've become pretty sharp."
In 2000, after Chang sang the Taiwan anthem for anti-China President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration, China stopped her from performing in China until summer 2001.
China views self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory. The island split from Mao Zedong's Communist-ruled mainland after the defeated Nationalists fled there in 1949.
Beijing officials have threatened to take the island back, by force if necessary, but over the past few years sought to seek favor with Taiwanese people by promoting cultural exchanges.
To promote exchanges, Chinese authorities wrote off the anthem incident as a "misunderstanding," said Li Peng, assistant director of Xiamen University Taiwan Research Institute in China.
Chang said the incident was "media exaggeration" and declined to discuss it further.
But the 35-year-old celebrity, who grew up singing for fun in her native aboriginal village, also talks up Taiwan when on the road.
"I wouldn't dare to say I can do a lot, but at least when I perform or when I go abroad to do promotions, I introduce Taiwan," she said.
A-Mei Star, her 14th album in a 10-year career, has sold 1 million copies, largely in Chinese-speaking Asia.
Previous albums sold better in China, because they came out when CD piracy was less of an issue. She would not say whether her new album was making money, stressing alternative China sales routes such as concerts and commercial sponsorships.
Illegal music sales in China are worth about $400 million, compared to $86 million in legitimate money, the London-based recording industry association IFPI estimates.
Increased competition from homegrown Chinese bands and acts from abroad also set A-Mei back, said Li at Xiamen University.
"A-Mei is famous, but there are a lot of artists out there, so the competition she faces is stiff."