After a spectacular artistic performance and a summary of the case, three dizi presented their experiences.
by Massimo Introvigne
Scholars of religion and those active in inter-religious dialogue know how unique an event is the Parliament of the World’s Religions. When it was created, in 1893 in Chicago, it represented something new, and something that changed the global history of religions. It was not so much a fruit of inter-religious dialogue, which was rare and difficult at that time; rather, it created inter-religious dialogue in the modern sense of the world.
I was honored to be a speaker at the 2018 edition in Toronto, Canada, which was attended by more than 8,000 delegates. I looked forward to the 2021 edition that, as happened to many other events, had to move online because of the global pandemic. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, as President of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in the Vatican, and Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, were among those presenting, together with luminaries from dozens of different countries and all major religions.
It was highly significant that among the proposals selected for the 2021 Parliament was a session on “Peace and Justice in Action: The Tai Ji Men Experience.” And I was very pleased to be once again part of the Parliament, by chairing the session and introducing a video with a spectacular “Dance of Love and Peace,” which Tai Ji Men had prepared specially for the event.
I then summarized the two themes of the session, and what I called the paradox of Tai Ji Men. On the one hand Tai Ji Men, a menpai (similar to a school) of martial arts, qigong and self-cultivation rooted in esoteric Taoism but open to women and men of all religions, has been highly praised by the highest authorities in Taiwan, including by several Presidents of the Republic of China.
Led by its shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, Tai Ji Men has not only presented traditional Chinese culture to the world through 3,000 events and artistic performances. It has become a key global player and advocate in peace education and the international promotion of a culture of peace, love, and conscience. On the other hand, Tai Ji Men has been persecuted and discriminated by the government of its home country.
I summarized the main events of the Tai Ji Men case. First, the arrest of Dr. Hong, his wife, and two dizi (disciples) within the framework of a politically motivated crackdown on several spiritual movements that happened in Taiwan in 1996. Second, the legal victory of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, who were recognized innocent of all charges in 2007.
Third, the stubbornness of the National Taxation Office in issuing six-year illegal tax bills even after the Supreme Court had declared that Tai Ji Men had never been guilty of tax evasion, finally reducing them to zero except the bill for 1992, maintained on the basis of a technicality. Fourth, based on the 1992 illegal bill, the auction and subsequent seizure, after two auctions failed, of land belonging to Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men and intended for a self-cultivation center in 2020, which caused the Tai Ji Men protests with thousands taking to the streets in Taiwan.
Three Tai Ji Men dizi then presented their experiences and thoughts. Melissa Wu, a dizi and a media studies graduate, reflected on the negative role of the media and social networks, which became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic, in both broadcasting fake news and hiding true information. Sometimes, this is due to irresponsible use of social media. In other cases, however, bureaucrats and others in power deliberately manipulate the media.
A case in point is the attitude of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, the main instigator of the crackdown on Tai Ji Men. He constantly fed Taiwanese media with false information about Dr. Hong, whom he even absurdly accused of raising goblins and stigmatized, and Tai Ji Men, and tried to hide true and essential information about the case. Although Hou was ultimately defeated and Tai Ji Men won its criminal court case, the influence of his manipulative, sensational, and dishonest media campaign persisted for long.
Linda Chen, a post-doctoral research associate specialized in rare genetic heart diseases at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, reported her experience as having as one of her jobs the task of playing the role of patient for training medical students and during their examinations. She played all sorts of roles, including often pregnant woman, for some ten years. What she mostly learned from the experience is that technical medical skills are not enough to gain the trust of patients.
A doctor needs to communicate feelings of peace and love, the very feelings Linda learned to share in her experience as a Tai Ji Men dizi. Dr. Hong taught her that conscience is the key, and promotes the mutual understanding that essentially bridges the gaps between different backgrounds and cultures. She found it all the more unjust and stranger that Tai Ji Men was repaid for all its good work with administrative persecution and illegal tax bills. It is weird and unfair, she said, that a government claiming to be democratic internationally can be so openly violating people’s economic, social, cultural rights and its citizens’ freedom of religion or belief, showing no concern at destroying precious living heritage.
Gill Wang reported her experience of going from California to Baltimore to study at Johns Hopkins University. She discovered that the city is divided into a “Black Butterfly,” where low-income African American live, and a “White L,” including the neighborhoods inhabited by rich whites. Social inequalities, as it happens in many parts of the world, lead to a lack of understanding and dialogue. As a Tai Ji Men dizi, Gill learned to importance of conscience, dialogue, peace, and love for making the world a better place.
The way the rogue bureaucrats in Taiwan have broken the law, time and again, is a violation of conscience, she said. How can that injustice happen, Wang asked, and they still don’t face any consequences? She was also shocked by seeing how Tai Ji Men’s kindness was repaid with discrimination and injustice, which recently motivated her to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C., and help presenting the Tai Ji Men case there.
Just as the International Religious Freedom Summit, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is about religions, peace, and justice. That the case of Tai Ji Men has been presented in such an august and historical assembly is a message of hope for all those caring about freedom of religion or belief. It also shows how extreme is this case of human rights violations, which has gone through nearly a quarter of a century.