Fundamental principles of law were violated by Taiwan’s bureaucrats. Rectifying the injustice should always be possible.
by Francesco Curto*
*A paper presented at the webinar “16th Anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision Recognizing the Tai Ji Men as Innocent,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on July 13, 2023.
I am an Italian lawyer specialized in civil law and the president of the association FEDINSIEME. For those who may not remember me from previous webinars, as a lawyer I deal with issues similar to those experienced by Tai Ji Men and its highly respected leader, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze. Through the association FEDINSIEME, I am involved in the promotion of dialogue between different cultures and religions, with a view to serving the whole community by providing useful tools to live fully, happily, and peacefully in a multicultural and multi-religious society.
I share with you, therefore, the passion to transmit a culture of peace to the world, and I regard as very valuable the work accomplished by Tai Ji Men to share the highest human values. I admire in particular the promotion of good “world citizens,” in a world where the values of citizenship are at risk of declining.
Anyone who observes contemporary societies, in fact, notes a paradox. On the one hand, there are epoch-making processes that tend to limit, deny, and even remove personal identity. On the other hand, precisely because contemporary societies appear to be highly individualized, we see a greater emphasis on how individuals confront their personal identity, and ask themselves who they properly are at their deepest, and how they want to be recognized. The tendency, in this context, is to give to inter-personal relationships a minimal and marginal role, prioritizing the search for personal identity and the effort to maintain its integrity. This paradox (which has effects on the concept of personality and its social representation) determines, or rather shapes, a new mentality that is expressed in ethical, political and economic choices, that is, in a new conception of “nature.”
The concept of nature, in fact, in contemporary societies has shifted from a static view of reality, connected to precise lines of philosophical thought, to a dynamic, changing, widely interpretable conception. Unavoidably, this change also affects the concept of “values,” and sometimes goes so far as to put all of them in doubt. Increased social complexities and technological developments made preserving values even more difficult.
Indeed, there emerges, for example, a dissipation of time, that is, the increased inability to be patient and wait, to accept that our evolution takes place by grasping experiences in fragments and in stages only. This often leads to a fragility in the construction of our identity. Contemporary knowledge, in fact, is predominantly experiential. But this means that transferring knowledge from the older to the younger generations is more difficult, particularly when the appropriate tools for this transmission are missing.
A relativization of history and values, as a consequence, manifests itself in the younger generations, as a kind of individual and social amnesia. The great religious or philosophical traditions are perceived as mere historical narratives, and regarded as difficult to apply to the modern context. This is the prevailing opinion, not mine. In fact, I regard it as totally wrong.
The goal of the Tai Ji Men movement and Dr. Hong, then, is precisely to restore these values, based on the primacy of conscience. It is an ambitious goal, and it met with obstacles. Paradoxes have emerged from the judicial issues of the Tai Ji Men movement and Dr. Hong. They include the violation of the principle of equality (i.e., that principle according to which the same tax treatment must be applied upon the occurrence of the same conditions and circumstances) and of the principle of the coherence of the legal system (i.e., the non-contradiction between acts and laws). They place all of us in the position of having to think about the instruments of participation in social life and their importance, to be able to rectify injustices when they occur.
Raising public awareness on these issues, I believe, is important. The involvement of international senior scholars and human rights experts is crucial. The Tai Ji Men tax case has at its center the fact that, from 1991 to 1996, with the exception of 1992, the money included in the “red envelopes” disciples gave to their Master was considered a gift and, therefore, tax-exempt, while with regard to 1992 the tax regime applied was totally different.
Today we celebrate the anniversary of Tai Ji Men’s and Dr. Hong’s 2007 victory in making justice and truth prevail. It was a landmark victory for all those who act to build a society rich in positive values. With respect to the tax case, the interest of the public administration to the preservation of its acts cannot take a preeminent value when they are patently invalid, due to defects of legitimacy or merit, as occurred in the Tai Ji Men case. In fact, even when such acts are “final,” a public administration can always correct them in the exercise of a power of self-protection that is directly based on the constitutional principle of good performance. The government’s acts should be as responsive as possible to the ends they are intended to achieve. This principle calls for the reexamination and revision also of “final” acts, when correcting them is requested by new circumstances that have arisen or by a different appreciation of a pre-existing situation. The authorities, when asked, should always give an explicit and timely account of how they exercised their power.
This is a principle in force in all modern and advanced democracies. In Italy, this principle has been reaffirmed several times by the Council of State, in cases in which the violation of the principle of consistency originated from an illegitimate act of the public administration.
If I am not mistaken, Taiwanese authorities today consider the legal case of Tai Ji Men as concluded. A good citizen respects the judgments. However, a good citizen, if there is a clear error in a judgement, has the right to peacefully activate forms of democratic participation whose aim is to explain to the public opinion the issue and the problems deriving from the error. A good citizen can also act, in the forms allowed by the legal system of the country, to contest the error and ask the public administration to correct it.
Being good world citizens is difficult. Promoting the noblest values of a society of peace and love is difficult. Persevering in activities to build a society of peace is difficult—but not impossible. We must all work to reverse the degenerative trend of contemporary societies and try to be good examples of how to build solid personal and social identities capable of confronting reality. We should look at the human being not as a mere individual, but as one of the potentially balancing or unbalancing elements of the whole universal reality.
I would like to see the solution of the case of Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong in the shortest possible time. I urge you to continue to affirm the values of the good world citizenship, guided by conscience, respectful of institutions and laws, but also determined in knowing how to protect human rights in the peaceful and noble ways Dr. Hong teaches. I hope to meet with you in person soon and wish you a good continuation of your work.