On U.N. International Day of Living Together in Peace, scholars and human rights activists called for acknowledging injustice and restoring justice for Tai Ji Men.
by Daniela Bovolenta
On May 16, 2023, United Nations International Day of Living Together in Peace, CESNUR and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers co-organized one of their bi-monthly webinars about the Tai Ji Men case, under the title “Will Tai Ji Men Finally Be Allowed to Live Together in Peace?”
Karolina Maria Hess, a researcher at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, introduced the webinar and a video on the history of the International Day of Living Together in Peace. It was included among the U.N. international days of observance in 2017, the video explained, but the original initiative came from Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, the head of the Algerian branch of the Muslim Sufi brotherhood Alawiya.
Hess also noted the influence on the growing awareness of the need for peace education of the idea of universal brotherhood promoted in the 19th century by the Theosophical Society. She discussed the figure of Theosophist artist Nicholas Roerich (who later established with his wife Helena an independent Theosophical branch) and his efforts to promote peace initiatives, including an international treaty protecting artistic and scientific institutions and historical monuments in times of war. Hess concluded by explaining how, in recent times, a similar leading role in promoting peace education has been played by Tai Ji Men, particularly through the invitation to world leaders to ring the Bell of World Peace and Love and commit to promote peace at all levels.
Hess then introduced the first two speakers, Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter” and managing director of CESNUR, and Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist and scholar who is director-in-charge of the same “Bitter Winter.”
Introvigne noted the importance in international discussions about peace of “War and Peace,” published by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in 1869 and regarded by many as the greatest novel of all times. Although the book, whose theme is the Russian war against Napoleon, has been ideologically manipulated and used in both Soviet and Putin’s Russia to promote Russian nationalism, Introvigne argued that it should be read in the context of Tolstoy’s whole life. Increasingly, Tolstoy regarded war as senseless carnage and became a radical pacifist. However, Introvigne stated, pacifism for Tolstoy, who was the first inspirer of Gandhi, never meant accepting evil and injustice but defeating them through non-violent means.
In this sense, Introvigne concluded, Tai Ji Men are “Tolstoian,” as they combat the injustice vested on them through principled, conscientious, and non-violent means. But a “peace” concluding the Tai Ji Men case cannot happen without a public acknowledgement of the injustice and a restoration of justice. Otherwise, it would be a false solution of the Tai Ji Men case and a travesty of justice, Introvigne said.
Respinti, quoting a 1952 speech by the Catholic Pope Pius XII, denounced a possible misunderstanding of “pacifism,” which reductively regards peace as the absence of war. Even where there is no war, there can be no peace if there is no justice, he said. Peace cannot be simply the sum of individual behaviors, Respinti argued; it should be a choral and collective enterprise. Such collective construction of peace is now needed in Taiwan, he concluded, to solve the Tai Ji Men case. Even if all other problems would be resolved, there will be no real peace for Taiwan, Respinti said, if the Tai Ji Men case is not justly concluded, as peace is not separable from justice.
Camelia Marin, deputy director of the NGO Soteria International, introduced the second session of the webinar and a video where the main features of the Tai Ji Men case were expressed through music and songs. Marin stated that living together in peace cannot come from citizens only but should be guaranteed by governments. Too often, peaceful living is hijacked by unjust governments and greedy bureaucrats. This is what happened in the Tai Ji Men case, she said.
Marin then introduced the testimony of five dizi (disciples) of Tai Ji Men. Julian Kao, a university lecturer, noted that the International Day of Living Together in Peace is also the International Day of Light. As such, it honors the invention of the laser and the harnessing of light for beneficial purposes by American scientist Theodore Maiman, but it also has a symbolic value. Kao used to live in Germany, where her children were taught in kindergarten that civil servants are the light of a country. This was unfortunately not the case in Taiwan with the Tai Ji Men case, Kao said. But it is not too late for Taiwanese leaders to correct the past wrongdoings and render justice to Tai Ji Men, Kao concluded.
Mia Wu, a nurse, reminisced about her first difficult years in the hospital, where she had problems in getting along with colleagues and was falling into a depression. After she joined Tai Ji Men, however, she learned how to “live together in peace” with her co-workers. She learned the same lesson when protesting in the streets on behalf of Tai Ji Men against the injustices vested on them. She never became angry or depressed. Yet, she never accepted injustice either, and today continues to fight for the right of Tai Ji Men to live in peace in a fair and just environment.
Lydia Qian, a system analyst, reported that she had trained as a nurse before her present career. As such, she realized that a Vietnamese nurse hired to take care of her grandmother was making mistakes, and became angry. Later, she understood that the problems largely came from language difficulties, and engaged in a fruitful dialogue with the Vietnamese nurse. As a Tai Ji Men dizi, she understood that conflicts can be solved, and peace restored through dialogue, conscience, and love. In protesting for the Tai Ji Men case, she believed that it could also be solved through an appeal to conscience and dialogue. So far, it has not happened, but she is not losing hope and continues her protest, Qian said.
Patrick Yu, general manager of a manufacturing company specialized in bearings, stated that living together in peace is a process, and can only happen in a democratic society. The fabricated Tai Ji Men case casts a disturbing doubt on the democratic nature of contemporary Taiwan, Yu said. However, he also noted that Tai Ji Men dizi educate themselves to live together in peace, and promote peace and democracy for everybody through their peaceful protests.
Grace Su, a college student currently preparing to study abroad, reported how she had to undertake three surgeries for fibrous dysplasia of the left cheekbone in 2022 and 2023. Although they saved her life, the surgeries changed her appearance and way of living. She overcame her negative emotions through the practice of Qigong and the guidance of Tai Ji Men’s Shifu (Grand Master). Having observed first-hand the great benefits of Tai Ji Men practice, she cannot understand why a movement doing so much good is still discriminated in Taiwan as a consequence of ill-founded tax bills. She expressed the hope that the sacred land seized from Tai Ji Men could be returned to Shifu and dizi soon.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, presented the conclusions of the webinar. He noted that artists, philosophers, and religious leaders all struggled with the question of how we can live together in peace. Fautré discussed the question of conscientious objection. When a war erupts, or even when called to military service in time of peace, some based on religious or moral motivations refuse to bear arms. Is this the right way of showing our love for peace? This is a question all should answer personally based on their own conscience, Fautré said. What is clear is that we should all testify for peace and resist injustice, he insisted, as Tai Ji Men have admirably done for several decades. They now need our help to achieve a real and just solution to their case, Fautré said.
The event concluded with a video featuring the second version of the “Song of Conscience” composed for the International Day Conscience, hailing the universality of the appeal to conscience as the moral compass for everybody.