NEWSPAPERS condemned Cantonese opera star Hung Hung - daughter of the great mainland performer Hung Sin-nui - as ''spoilt'', ''heartless'' and ''rebellious'' when she defected to Taiwan in 1984. Sin-nui was just as stunned, and so devastated by the news that she was hospitalised for a while. The drama began in February, 1984, when Hung Hung left Guangzhou on an eight-day tour to Hong Kong. On March 1, the last day of her trip, she disappeared. On October 9, Taipei finally announced that Hung Hung had fled to Taiwan in search of freedom. Her husband and son had been left behind in Guangzhou. Nine years later, mother and daughter have been reunited, initially on the mainland when Hung Hung visited her mother in April, and more recently in Hong Kong at the Tung Wah Charity show on TVB earlier this month. At the latter, Sin-nui had a chance to see her daughter perform for the first time in almost a decade. But the reason for Hung Hung's defection is still a mystery as she declined to talk about it. ''Each person has his own experience, but in my life everything seems to have happened to me,'' said 67-year-old Sin-nui, a household name in Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. A look at her life proves the point. Born in Guangzhou, Sin-nui was the youngest of four brothers and seven sisters. From the age of five she had liked to sing and dance. At home she would hear her brothers sing Cantonese and Peking opera. They also had a gramophone and played records of opera songs. When the family moved to Hong Kong, she began to learn Cantonese opera in earnest, despite her father's disapproval. At seven she knew how to sing one full song and had her first major role as a maid in the opera. In 1942, Sin-nui joined an anti-Japanese troupe in Guangxi where they performed for charity. By the age of 15, she was playing leading roles and becoming famous. When she returned to Hong Kong, her artistic skills matured rapidly. As an opera actress she had to play historical roles so she hired different teachers to teach her classical Chinese literature, history and Peking opera to enrich herself. But at the pinnacle of her career in Hong Kong, she became dissatisfied as she could not foresee further development of her operatic skills. So, in 1955, at the height of her fame, she went to Guangzhou where the artistic atmosphere was stronger. The move paid off. On the third day after her arrival in China, she was invited to perform before senior party members Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing in Beijing. Sin-nui's daughter Hung Hung, also a gifted opera star, was considered by many as her mother's successor. At first Sin-nui wanted her to learn piano and ballet which she believed were higher arts than Cantonese opera. After learning the piano for a few years, Hung Hung contracted arthritis in her fingers and could not play any longer. So she changed her career and became a Cantonese opera singer, her operatic skills carefully nurtured by her mother. During the Cultural Revolution, the once-glamorous Sin-nui was labelled a counter-revolutionary. She was forced to shave off her hair and sweep the streets. But she never despaired and kept practising opera songs at home. ''The Cultural Revolution was a tragedy,'' Sin-nui said. ''I stopped performing for 13 years. There is no way to compensate for this loss. Now I am fighting hard to regain my lost years. ''They wouldn't let me sing so I sang when alone. I don't think I will ever leave my audience. My career is my second life.'' She views all the tragic events that happened to China and herself as part of a disaster. Yet her passion for opera would not allow her to be defeated. In 1980, Sin-nui's first overseas performance after 25 years took place in Singapore, with her daughter acting in the first half and she in the second. After testing out the audience response, they came to Hong Kong. When mother and daughter arrived at Hunghom railway station, the welcome from their fans was enormous. Their adulation of Sin-nui has not diminished after a quarter of a century's absence. Then came the defection and separation from her daughter, a new sadness for Sin-nui to face. But now the two are back in touch with a joint goal in mind. Sin-nui and her 49-year-old daughter are working hard to revive interest in Cantonese opera - one in Guangzhou and the other in Taiwan - and to inspire the younger generation to follow in theirartistic footsteps.