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French wushu practitioner promotes Taiwanese temple culture in Paris

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Académie Wukong members pose together for a photo after a performance on Friday. CNA photo Feb. 17, 2024
French Lion Dance performers put on a Lunar New Year show outside of Taiwan wheel cake shop Ciao Roue on Saturday. CNA photo Feb. 17, 2024
Académie Wukong Wushu founder Ghyslain Kuehn plays the drum for his troupe during a lion dance performance in Paris Friday. CNA photo Feb. 17, 2024

Paris, Feb. 19 (CNA) France's first Taiwan-inspired lion dance troupe made its debut on the streets of Paris on Saturday as part of one man's bid to promote temple culture in the European country.

The troupe made an appearance in front of Ciao Roue, a Taiwanese-owned wheel cake shop. Despite only having trained for a few months, their dance won cheers and applause from onlookers.

Ghyslain Kuehn, the founder of the troupe, told CNA on Sunday that he wants to promote Taiwanese temple culture in France.

He said he loved temple celebrations, which traditionally incorporate lion dance, Ba Jia Jiang (八家將), and large deity puppets, because he sees them as a way to preserve wushu culture.

The lion dance is commonly performed during temple celebrations in Taiwan. In the past, dances would integrate wushu, or martial arts, because of the physical strength built up. Troupes would also serve as self-defense groups.

Ba Jia Jiang, translated as "Eight Generals," is also a typical temple celebration troupe believed to ward off evil.

These troupes have been associated with gangs, in part given the links between temple-related organizations in Taiwan and local crime rings reported by local media and found in popular culture, resulting in the tradition becoming less popular, but Kuehn was unaffected by these preconceptions.

He started learning wushu at the age of 13 and has been pursuing the art for more than 20 years in France, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

In 2016 he arrived in Taiwan to learn traditional martial arts. He trained in traditional Chinese medicine and several branches of wushu with master Lu Wen-rui (盧文瑞) and became the only foreign disciple under master Wu Jun-yi (吳俊億), with whom he trained in lion dance and Taiwanese war drums.

He met his Taiwanese wife Liu Shih-ting (劉詩庭) during his stay, and he returned to Paris with her in 2023 with hopes of establishing a wushu academy.

That September, he founded the Académie Wukong Wushu (法國民社館忠義堂), which holds weekly lion dance courses.

Liu supported Kuehn's passion, telling CNA that she hoped Taiwan's temple culture and lion dances would not always evoke ideas of gangster activity in Taiwanese people. She said she hoped people would come to appreciate it as a demanding art form with deep cultural roots.

In the future, the couple hopes to collaborate with more Taiwanese businesses or institutions on festive occasions.

Kuehn also aspires to teach Taiwanese war drums to protect and promote the culture. He also wants to learn the Ba Jia Jiang craft so he can promote it in France.

"My biggest dream is to be able to form a temple celebration 'zhentou' (陣頭) -- a Taiwanese folk performance team -- in France one day," Kuehn said.

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