I never thought I'd write this, but Kenny G is at the center of an international uproar.
Kenny G was in Hong Kong on Wednesday and made an appearance at one of the sites where pro-democracy protesters have been gathering. Then he tweeted about it, along with a photo of himself with the protesters.
The government in Beijing was not happy. But why did it matter so much?
"Kenny G is a massive star in China," says Jon Kaiman, a China correspondent for The Guardian who wrote about the uproar. "His music is played at cafes and restaurants and gyms all across the country. He's a sensation. His shows sell out."
This is all true. Honest.
"The fact that he would do something to infuriate the Chinese government — nobody was expecting it to happen," Kaiman says.
But did Kenny G really know what he was getting himself into when he waded into the pro-democracy crowd in Hong Kong? Kenny G himself says he didn't. He wrote a pretty harmless message along with his photo: "I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation."
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to his tame words with strong lanugage, saying they "hope foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form."
"For Kenny G, he must have been pretty frazzled," Kaiman says. "He deleted the tweet, and he wrote on Facebook that he was basically just going for a walk around and didn't understand the situation."
Bad move: The post took an absolute beating. "People were really frustrated for Kenny G flip-flopping on his views" Kaiman says. There are now at least 1,000 comments on that update.
The irony is that most people in mainland China probably never saw the photo. China shut down access to Twitter and Instagram over the Hong Kong protests, adding to its usual tight media controls. "There's been a blanket ban, effectively, on anything even approaching sympathetic coverage of these protest in mainland media," Kaiman says. "Kenny G is a sensation, but I have an inkling that any time somebody mentions Kenny G in connection to the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, it will get shut down immediately."
Of course, there's still a vital question: How did Kenny G become so popular in China in the first place?
Kaiman says it's a mystery we may never solve. It puzzles him and his Chinese friends as well. But he has one tune, "Going Home," that you can hear almost everywhere you go. "It somehow became this anthem of closing times in Chinese institutions — cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms," he says. But "the reason why the song became so popular in China is a total mystery. Nobody seems to have any idea."
And while Kenny G may have upset the foreign ministry, it's doubtful the artist and his music will be banned in China. "I think the mainland Chinese people are generally pretty apolitical, and Kenny G is generally pretty apolitical," Kaiman says. "So if there is any minor political transgression the central government will let slide, I imagine this is it."