The Empress Dowager Cixi has a reputation for being a calculating tyrant who was partly responsible for the fall of the Qing Dynasty, so 26-year-old Wong Po-yu was understandably shocked when her new label informed her that her artist name would be Cixi, only written with different Chinese characters.
"I was like, really? Could I add my surname just so I'd seem less overbearing? And my manager was like, 'No'," says Wong, who prefers her English name, Cga. "I guess it's pretty hard to make a strong first impression these days, so they wanted me to have a name that would really grab people's attention. It was scary at first, but I'm used to it now."
With her sweet voice and bubbly character, Wong is more like the type of girl you'd expect to star in a Taiwanese romance drama series instead of a power-hungry empress dowager. But it's all due to her agreeable and compliant personality that she was finally able to become a recording artist.
Growing up in Tuen Mun, Wong never dreamed of becoming a performer. When she was in Form One, she once ran out of a cheering team dance performance because she was so scared.
"I grew up in a very protected environment. My parents are always fussing over me - even now they cut up my food, wipe my shoes and call me 'baby'," says Wong. "When I was young I liked to go out with friends a lot; we sang karaoke and I went to their houses to play with make-up. I would go home late and my mother would get angry."
This changed in Form Four, when she agreed to accompany a friend to hip-hop dance lessons at a community centre. The teacher made Wong stand at the front, and asked other students to follow her. "It was then that I realised - I'm good at this!" recalls Wong. She joined a few dance crews, and was soon recruited as a dancer for big Canto-pop stars such as Joey Yung, Eason Chan and Fiona Sit.
Life as a dancer was tough. Before a concert, rehearsals would run all week, lasting from 9am to 2am. Wong would get home two hours later, and be back dancing early the next morning. She was so tired that she stopped going out with friends; she went home to rest whenever she could.
"I became more mature through dancing. I learned so much. Joey Yung is one of my idols. She's one of the most hard-working artists I've ever met, and that's why she does so well. She doesn't stop, even though she's successful. Whenever she has a new dance, she adds her own moves to make it more difficult," she says.
As much as she loved dancing, Wong soon saw that it wasn't something she could do her whole life. "I have friends who are professional dancers and when they reach their 30s they get injured all the time," she says. So at 17, and when she wasn't dancing, she did some singing for a pop band called Sweet Day. They recorded some demos and flew to Taiwan in search of a record deal. "We searched for the addresses of music labels and went to their offices with our CDs. It was crazy but they were so supportive and checked out our music. We were so touched we cried on the spot," says Wong.
Sweet Day didn't find their big break, but a year later a manager noticed Wong when she was dancing on stage and signed her to his company. Wong began to perform as a singer and acted in stage productions, but for five years her label didn't let her produce original songs.
By teaching dance classes in her spare time, Wong was able to earn about HK$5,000, and that covered her living expenses. As time dragged on, she considered giving up altogether. "I could have earned a lot more money if I left my label and taught more classes. But I couldn't bear quitting because I had already put in so much time."
Her perseverance finally paid off last year when her boss referred her to her current label - Viva Music. She recently released two singles, I'll Be Alright and Cixi Is Not Me, which she performed for Young Post's Live@YP series. The latter reflects Wong's long path to becoming a singer, and the lyrics ask fans not to judge her based on her name.
With more songs scheduled for release this year, Wong looks set to bring a new reputation to the name Cixi.
Cga's Live@YP performance: