A webinar asked why a movement internationally reputed for teaching tolerance became itself victim of intolerance.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
On November 15, 2021, on the eve of the International Day for Tolerance, CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers co-organized one of the bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, with the title “Witnessing for Tolerance: Scholars, NGOs, and the Tai Ji Men Case.”
Camelia Marin, Deputy Director of Soteria International, introduced the webinar, noting that intolerance is prevailing in several countries, and spread by the media, against certain new religious and spiritual movements, and is present even where many would not expect it, including in Taiwan, as the Tai Ji Men case, of which she offered a short summary, proves. She also introduced a video where specific, and in some cases tragic, victim cases evidenced the prevalence of tax injustice and the use of taxes as a tool for intolerance in Taiwan.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and the editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, discussed how the rigidity of bureaucracy can produce intolerance. He mentioned the novel by Franz Kafka The Castle and the studies by American sociologist Robert K. Merton—both reacting against the praise of bureaucracy by one of the founders of modern sociology, Max Weber—as prophetic texts denouncing what may happen when bureaucrats no longer understand administrative regulations as means to an end but regard them as ends in themselves.
These pages, Introvigne said, perfectly apply to the case of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan. He offered as evidence the letters recently sent by two Taiwanese ministries, of Finances and of Justice, to the Overseas Community Affairs Council of the Executive Yuan of Taiwan, who had enquired about the Tai Ji Men case.
Rather than discussing the substance of the matter, these letters stated that the decisions of the National Taxation Bureau and the Administrative Enforcement Agency against Tai Ji Men were formally valid. This, Introvigne said, is reminiscent of what the main character in Kafka’s novel is told: that by definition bureaucrats never make mistakes, and that whether an administrative decision is right or wrong is not important, what is important is that it carries the appropriate stamps.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, told how following an initiative by the UNESCO the United Nations adopted November 16 as the International Day for Tolerance. He identified tolerance for all forms of religion and spirituality as a key feature of tolerance in general, and one that is often neglected.
Fautré acknowledged that in many cases religious majorities are intolerant towards religious minorities. In other cases, intolerance against religious and spiritual groups has political motivations. This happened, Fautré noted, when intolerance targeted Tai Ji Men in Taiwan. This, he said, was particularly sad considering the international role of Tai Ji Men’s leader, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, as a champion of tolerance.
On September 11, 2001, when one of the worst episodes of intolerance motivated by religious fanaticism happened through the terrorist attacks, Fautré said, Dr. Hong was in New York for a United Nations conference. Rather than leaving the city, as many did, Dr. Hong and the Tai Ji Men dizi stayed in New York and calmly continued with the ceremony of ringing their Bell of World Peace and Love, believing that praying for peace and advocating for tolerance was more needed than ever.
Giuseppe Cicogna, director of the Italian committee for interreligious dialogue Fedinsieme (Faiths Together), reminisced about his meeting Dr. Hong in 2019 in Torino, when he accompanied the president of Fedinsieme, attorney Francesco Curto, to a ceremony where the leader of Tai Ji Men received an international award. Cicogna said that the Tai Ji Men case in Taiwan is so twisted and contradictory that one may legitimately suspect that, rather than applying laws or administrative regulations, the aim of some rogue bureaucrats was to slander Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men and destroy the valuable work they carry on for international peace.
If such is the case, Cicogna noted, then much more is at stake than a mere tax case. “I would like to tell Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong, he concluded, please do not abandon this fight. Many internationally renowned experts are speaking out in your favor and others, I am sure, will join them in the future and support you.”
Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, praised Tai Ji Men for their relentless pursuit of justice and introduced a second video featuring Wang Chien-Shien, the former president of Taiwan’s Control Yuan. Wang said that, although there have been improvements in the situation of human rights in Taiwan, much remains to be done. He identified two core problems that generate systemic injustices.
First, there are too many administrative laws and regulations, a fact that confuses the honest citizens and makes abuses easier. Second, the performance evaluation process for government officials is based on “something like cheating,” and even obviously corrupted or lazy bureaucrats routinely receive good evaluations. Obviously, this should be changed. Wang was also Minister of Finance of Taiwan, and said that when he was asked later to write the preface of a book on tax injustice (the ROC Centenary Taxation and Human Rights White Paper), he realized he had been co-responsible of it, and wrote down, “I am a crook.”
“When I was the Minister of Finance, we must have a lot of laws like this that do not consider civilian life.” he said. When he was doing charity work after leaving off the post, and felt painful while “adapting to” those regulations and explanation letters, he thought he was such a jerk before.
Also presenting their testimonies via video were Sean Chen, managing partner of a law firm, and Sang Pu, a political commentator and lawyer from Hong Kong. Chen said that, since he is not representing Tai Ji Men, he is often asked by colleagues why he publicly speaks out about the case. He mentioned the case of the “banality of evil” in Nazi Germany. Evil prevails when nobody speaks out, and evil also prevails when laws are applied mechanically without considering their rationale and their aims. This is what happened in the Tai Ji Men case, Chen said, which is not an individual case but offers a window on a widespread situation of tax injustice and intolerance in Taiwan.
Sang Pu also said that the Tai Ji Men case should be of concern for all those who care for human rights. An injustice inflicted even on a single person is an injustice inflicted on all. The price of freedom, he said, is eternal vigilance, and the secret of freedom is courage. “I am not a Tai Ji Men dizi, he concluded, but I believe it is my duty to fight for tax justice and freedom of belief. And I am sure many others will join us.”
Andy Wang, the retired vice-president of a Taiwanese company, told how practicing qigong at the Tai Ji Men Academy greatly improved the situation of his son Jason, who was suffering from asthma, his own back pain, and even his character, so that he could achieve excellent results in his career as a corporate executive and factory manager. He attributes this success to the teachings of Dr. Hong. Many others, Wang said, received similar benefits from Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, which renders the injustice and intolerance vested on them even more painful and absurd.
Respinti then introduced a third video, which presented the protests of American dizi on November 5 at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Washington DC, the third such protest after those carried out in July and September this year.
Megan Hsu, a Tai Ji Men dizi who works as a chief purser for an international airline company, shared her beautiful but challenging job experience and told how continuously flying may create health problems, which she was helped solving by her qigong practice. She also reported how she traveled to various countries with Dr. Hong for cultural exchanges, and came to understand and appreciate his role as an international advocate for conscience and ambassador of traditional Chinese culture, which greatly benefited the international image of Taiwan, as several Taiwanese presidents recognized.
She was particularly impressed by a meeting in Istanbul between Dr. Hong and Turkish journalist and activist Dr. Hakkan Suver, president of the Marmara Group Foundation. Hsu is now engaged in protesting against the intolerance and injustice against Tai Ji Men, and hope the current President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-Wen will intervene and solve this situation that has not found a solution in 25 years.
Tony Hu, a businessman, reported that he immigrated as a child with his parents to the United States, was educated as an American, and did not know much about Chinese culture. In 1999, a classmate who was a Tai Ji Men dizi persuaded him to travel to Seattle in 1999 to watch the 50th-anniversary edition of the famous Seattle Seafair Torchlight Parade.
1,200 dizi led by Dr. Hong participated in the parade, were among the most admired groups, and helped Tony reconnect with Chinese culture. He joined Tai Ji Men the next year, and went to many countries for cultural exchanges. In the process, he learned from Dr. Hong the importance of conscience, which helped him understand how some bureaucrats’ lack of conscience was the core problem in the persecution of Tai Ji Men.
Hu concluded by quoting the tragic case of judge Khanakorn Pianchana in Thailand who in 2019 was pressured to convict five suspects he believed innocent because of political interference. When the court ruling proved the five defendants were innocent, his conscience could not accept this extrajudicial intervention, and he shot himself publicly in the courtroom. He was rushed to the hospital, was saved by the doctors, and returned home.
In 2020, since despite the publicity that had surrounded his case the system was not improving and interference on judges continued, he shot himself again and this time he died. This case, Hu believes, proves that a conscientious person cannot bear the injustice received by others, let alone impose the injustice on others. He called on President Tsai to rectify the false case of Tai Ji Men as soon as possible.
Yu Ting-Lin, a dizi who works in a research institute, told the painful story of how many in his family were terrorized by the persecution and slander against Tai Ji Men, and either abandoned the movement or tried to hide their affiliation with it. Yu said that it is difficult for those who did not go through these experiences to understand what really happened, and how heavy was the pressure the dizi were subjected to. He expressed gratitude for the fact that so many international scholars took an interest in the Tai Ji Men case, and hope that this will finally lead to its solution.
Bernadette Rigal-Cellard from the University of Bordeaux, widely regarded as the leading French scholar of new religious and spiritual movements, concluded the webinar. She compared the situation in Taiwan to the one in France, where taxes have also been used to discriminate against religious and spiritual movements. She also noted that the adjective “Kafkaesque” is still used in English to indicate situations arising from the rigidity of bureaucracy, a testament to the importance of Kafka’s novel The Castle mentioned by Massimo Introvigne.
She added that she visited Taiwan several times, and followed with sympathy its path to democracy. She still believes in this path, Rigal-Cellard said, but she is astonished by the Tai Ji Men case and wonders how such a stain on Taiwan’s international reputation is not rectified. She concluded that she is not a dizi of Tai Ji Men but she admires them, and sees them as a model of peaceful protest in front of intolerance.
A final video presented a new book, Live the Tai Ji in Your Heart, so far available in Chinese only, while the English version is under translation. Ruby Chang, one of the authors, explained that many conflicts derive from not understanding each other. “Tai Ji” is one of the oldest forms of psychology, and may help solving both personal and social problems.