Two webinars celebrated the United Nations International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, focusing on Tai Ji Men’s activities for peace and their protests against injustice.
by Daniela Bovolenta
On April 24, 2022, two of the webinars organized bimonthly by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers discussed the theme “Tai Ji Men: Citizen Diplomacy for Peace and Justice.” The second webinar was mostly intended for a North American audience.
The notion of “citizen diplomacy” was explored in the speeches by Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, and Massimo Introvigne, editor-in-chief of the same magazine and managing director of CESNUR, who spoke in both webinars.
In the second webinar, Introvigne recalled that the expression “citizen diplomacy” was created during the Cold War, when scientists and other academics in Japan, Europe, and the United States were concerned about the threat of a nuclear war, and believed the friendly relationships they had developed with colleagues from the Soviet bloc through international academic conferences could be used to promote peace. While the Soviet Union tried to manipulate citizen diplomacy for its own purposes, eventually skilled and professional private organizations emerged.
Not coincidentally, Introvigne explained, some of the largest citizen diplomacy agencies were created by religious and spiritual groups, since the work for peace is often rooted in a spiritual experience. Introvigne mentioned the work of Soka Gakkai, a Japanese lay Buddhist movement, which was and is particularly active in promoting agreements against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and of the Italian Catholic Community of Saint Egidio, which has mediated in several conflicts, particularly in Africa.
It is thus not surprising, Introvigne concluded, that Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, was able to set up with his dizi (disciples) a very effective citizen diplomacy program, whose role was acknowledged by the United Nations and led inter alia to the inclusion of the International Day of Conscience among the U.N. days of observance. The fact that Tai Ji Men is itself suffering injustice in Taiwan made understanding other victims throughout the world easier for the dizi, Introvigne said—which is not a reason to perpetuate injustice. In fact, he insisted that injustice should be stopped, and Tai Ji Men’s resources allowed to be freely mobilized for promoting peace and love internationally.
Marco Respinti emphasized the possible dangers of citizen diplomacy, returning to the fact that “political pilgrims” to the Soviet Union were used by the Soviet propaganda to claim that Western intellectuals sided with them. However, citizen diplomacy needs not be dangerous, Respinti said, just as citizen armed militias need not be rogue and can be among the bravest defenders of their motherlands.
Respinti noted that Tai Ji Men’s citizen diplomacy is somewhat unique, as it works at a “pre-political” rather than a strictly political level by emphasizing conscience. Before solving specific political problems, the primacy of conscience should be recognized. This is a simple message, but an essential one, Respinti noted, and is the reason why Dr. Hong is hold in such high esteem by political and religious leaders from all over the world.
An outside observer, Respinti said, might have predicted that the 25-year-long persecution and tax harassment of Tai Ji Men would have derailed their citizen diplomacy for peace and love. But such an outside observer would not have known Tai Ji Men. On the contrary, they derive from persecution and suffering the strength to be even more effective in their peace efforts.
In his speech for the first webinar, Introvigne added that citizen diplomacy, and most probably diplomacy itself, was born in China. He reported his research and travels in search of the mysterious Guiguzi, who according to Chinese tradition operated the first school of diplomacy in human history towards the end of the Warring States period (453–221 BCE).
Western scholars debate whether Guiguzi was a single person or a group of authors of the “Guiguzi” book as we know it. Be it as it may be, Introvigne said, the book is an admirable treatise teaching both government officers and scholars who wanted to work for their states how to use a combination of firmness and flexibility, a skill acquired through self-cultivation. Studying ancient Chinese diplomacy, Introvigne commented, helps to understand Dr. Hong’s work for peace and the dizi’s ability to resist persecution and continue their benevolent work.
Also speaking in both webinars was Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers. He noted that April 24 is a United Nations day honoring both diplomacy for peace and multilateralism. By celebrating multilateralism, the United Nations intended to promote a world where different voices contribute to peacefully solve conflicts, not only two or three superpowers, but also smaller powers. In fact, multilateralism goes beyond the states, and means that also the voices from civil society should be heard.
Fautré described how a truly multilateral coalition was developed in the last few years to support Tai Ji Men’s protests against the injustice perpetrated against them in Taiwan, including scholars, NGOs, and some politicians. While many worked to build this unique network, Fautré said, the main credit goes to Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong themselves, who had already an experience in creating multilateral networks for the promotion of their peace, love, and conscience initiatives.
Camelia Marin, deputy director of the NGO Soteria International, introduced the first webinar and summarized the activities of Tai Ji Men for peace and love, as well as the main features of the Tai Ji Men case. She also noted the importance of spiritual organizations in promoting citizen diplomacy. Sometimes, she said, these spiritual groups find obstacles in what they do because of persecution at home, as the case of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan demonstrates. Citizen diplomacy is now needed to persuade the Taiwanese authorities to solve the case.
Alessandro Amicarelli, a London-based human rights attorney and president of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) presented the second webinar. He said we all appreciate Taiwan as “the other China,” the “China with democracy,” and this is why learning about the Tai Ji Men case came for many Western scholars and activists as a shock. Now, Amicarelli, said, the shock should be replaced by a global activism that would persuade the Taiwanese government that the time to solve the Tai Ji Men case and restore the democratic image of Taiwan has come.
Marin and Amicarelli presented in the webinars they respectively chaired the fourth installment of the series “Unbreakable Bonds,” which tells in detail the story of the Tai Ji Men case. The installment focuses on the work of the defense counsels after the case started and Dr. Hong, his wife, and two dizi were unjustly arrested.
The first webinar also featured a video explaining that in Canada tax officers who abused their role and issued unjust tax bills were seriously punished, something that never happened in Taiwan. In the second webinar, a video presented several performances and events organized by Tai Ji Men throughout the world to promote a culture of peace and love.
Presented by Marin in the first webinar and by Amicarelli in the second, several dizi presented their testimonies. Six spoke at the first webinar.
Emily Hung, an airline chief purser, described her professional experience and excitement in working as a flight attendant on Taiwan’s presidential plane and other flights with important personalities. As a dizi, she was even more excited to fly with Dr. Hong to Turkey in the World Love and Peace Goodwill Trip of 2017. She has also visited several times Singapore, and has been impressed by the peaceful coexistence of different religions and forms of spirituality there. She learned from Dr. Hong that without human rights there may be no real peace. The lesson, she said, was not learned by Taiwanese bureaucrats, but it is never too late to rectify injustice.
Joyce Huang, a third-grader at Lio Ho High School, reported a similar experience when as a young girl she participated in 2018 to the annual conference of the Federation of World Peace and Love in New York. Dizi went to Time Square and 911 Memorial Plaza, and asked passers-by three questions: what is love, what is peace, what we can do to create a world of love and peace.
Confronting the memories of the 9/11 terrorist attack, she was led to meditate on those who willingly put obstacles to peace and justice. Unfair and non-transparent taxation and indiscriminately issued tax bills are also obstacles to peace. They may seem less dramatic than physical violence, Huang said, but the Tai Ji Men case demonstrates that their consequences may be devastating and negatively impact on the life of thousands.
Allen Yeh, a patent engineer, discussed the problems the patent community is facing after the COVID-19 crisis started. Developing countries, and even U.S. President Joe Biden, would favor a patent exemption for COVID-19 vaccines, but this is opposed by the European Union, where some of the largest companies that have patented vaccines are. Another problem manifests itself in Taiwan, a country that supports the protection of intangible cultural assets of Chinese culture, including Tai Ji Xuan, as a heritage of humanity. Yet, at the same time, Taiwan persecutes Tai Ji Men, which plays an important role in preserving and taking to the world these same cultural assets.
Mollie Jian, a 9-year-old pupil of a primary school, said that she does not feel she is too young to participate in protests for Tai Ji Men and activities of the Tax and Legal Reform League. She attends rallies and hands out flyers in different cities in Taiwan, and she has familiarized herself with the story of the case. She wants to be part of these activities not only for Tai Ji Men but for Taiwan and for herself, as she hopes the country will become a better place for human rights and for its own citizens when she grows up.
Erica Wu, a student at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York State University who is currently studying for a semester in Argentina, discussed the interconnection between multiculturalism, diplomacy for peace, and human rights. This connection works virtuously in the effective citizen diplomacy of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, Wu said. But the opposite is also true, she noted: where human rights are not respected, as happens in Taiwan with the Tai Ji Men case and other instances of abuse by tax bureaucrats, a government loses its credibility, which severely frustrates its chances of being taken seriously in international multilateral diplomacy.
Arthur Hsieh, a dizi who works in Taiwan as a product engineer, shared two stories of Tai Ji Men’s citizen diplomacy in which he was personally involved. In 2018, he visited the Balkans as part of the Tai Ji Men Culture Witness Group, and was there when Dr. Hong gave to the representative of the Kosovo Assembly Chairperson the “Key to the Heart,” something world leaders can symbolically use to open their own conscience and the good hearts of others.
In 2019, he was in Irkutsk, Siberia, where an Oriental and a local dance were both performed, symbolizing the will of two different cultures to peacefully interact. Hsieh also mentioned that Tai Ji Men promotes multilateralism and human rights in its own country, Taiwan, where dizi protest not only for themselves but for the rule of law, which is systematically violated by an abusive tax system.
In the second webinar, another six dizi offered their testimonies. Zona Chen, an elementary school teacher, shared her experience of discussing the problem of tax injustice with children. She found appropriate ways to explain to them what can happen when unjust tax bills are imposed that citizens are unable to pay, and courts side with the tax officers in most of the cases. She has also participated in tours to several foreign countries with Dr. Hong, and hopes the Taiwanese authorities would both stop harassing such an obviously benevolent organization and enact a comprehensive tax reform that is long overdue.
Athena Li, a new graduate of Taipei Medical University, reflected on the different meanings of the world “peace.” She also had a story to share about a key, the “Key to the World,” which on September 15, 2005, was turned together by Dr. Hong and the then President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Antonio Fernández Reyna in New York. Fernández Reyna is a man of peace and in 2008 was an effective mediator to end a crisis between Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. That such a positive organization for world peace as Tai Ji Men continues to be harassed through ill-founded tax claims in Taiwan, Li said, defies credibility.
Eileen Ho, a marketing designer, said that the Tai Ji Men case demonstrates that the power of the bureaucrats is like an “invisible gun,” because citizens do not know who holds it and from where the shot will come. There is only one way to fight the “invisible gun,” Ho said, i.e., not to be afraid of it, let go of fear and hatred, and continue to work for love, justice, and peace.
Tiffany Fang, former director of a marketing company, shared her experience as a participant in the Tai Ji Men performances and cultural exhibitions in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics. Tai Ji Men were complimented by Gordon Jacob Samuels, the then Governor of New South Wales. The Olympic movement and events, Fang said, are in themselves an example of multiculturalism. These beautiful memories for Fang stand in contrast with the painful experience of being discriminated in Taiwan because of the slander campaign against Tai Ji Men. She had to protest for more than twenty years against tax bills that should never have existed in the first place.
Pamela Chen, a project manager and a dizi from California, explained that all the trips of Tai Ji Men in pursuit of citizen diplomacy promoting a civilization of peace and love are self-funded, as are the trips she undertook to Taiwan, regarding as her duty, towards not only Tai Ji Men but also Taiwan and its democracy, to participate in the protests. She witnessed the birth and development of a beautiful global network of scholars and NGOs supporting Tai Ji Men, and appealed to the Taiwanese government to hear their voices.
Eva Tseng, a university student, noted that youths in Taiwan are remarkably unconcerned about international events, and are not paying the same attention as young people in other countries do even to the war in Ukraine. In contrast, Dr. Hong always taught dizi to carefully observe international events.
Those who participated in his world tours to spread a culture of love, peace, and conscience surely understood that local conflicts can have global consequences. The same, Tseng say, is true for domestic injustice. Taiwan’s tax abuses are evidenced by the fact that the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favor of the taxpayers only in 11.31% of the cases, against 50% in the Czech Republic and in India and 60% in Denmark. Ultimately, tax injustice affects the quality and credibility of Taiwan’s democracy, and this has international consequences.
Iván Arjona Pelado, president of the Spanish United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO Fundación para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad (Foundation for the Betterment of Life, Culture, and Society) concluded the first webinar. He noted that several speakers underlined that citizen diplomacy comes from conscience and from what spiritual movements call “self-cultivation.” He also mentioned that all speakers insisted that the effectiveness of Tai Ji Men’s citizen diplomacy comes from the dizi’s experience of suffering and injustice. Now, it is up to all the participants in the webinar to deploy their own citizen diplomacy to help Tai Ji Men.
Stephen Enada, president and co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), a Baptist pastor, and a well-known human rights activist, concluded the second webinar. He emphasizes that there is a “bad diplomacy,” derailed by vested economic interests, just as there is a bad internal policy driven by dubious agendas of bureaucrats and politicians, as it happens in the Tai Ji Men case. What the case needs is a good citizen diplomacy, Enada says, where scholars and activists would act as missionaries for truth and justice.
The first conference was concluded by a video, “The Fabricated Tai Ji Men Case,” where the case and its contradictions were presented through a musical performance inspired by traditional Chinese opera.
The second conference concluded with “Children of Heaven,” where young boys and girls presented a fairy tale about overcoming the “five poisons” (a traditional Chinese concept) of greed, hate, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. Because they let the five poisons contaminate them, the children of Heaven had to descend to Earth. They were told by God that by living wisely they would be able to return to Heaven. They forget God’s advice, though, and the five poisons wreaked havoc on Earth through wars and epidemics. God called people to go back to their conscience, which eventually saved the Earth and allowed the children of Heaven to return home. It was a fit parable for our difficult times.