Violence against women devotees of new spiritual movements is sometimes perpetrated by the governments themselves. Tai Ji Men female disciples react without losing their joy of living.  

by Camelia Marin*

*Introduction to the webinar “Violence, Women, and Freedom of Religion or Belief: Honoring the Women of Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on November 25, 2023, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on November 30th, 2023.

Women protesters of Tai Ji Men.
Women protesters of Tai Ji Men.

Each United Nations international day of observance offers many actors the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day. Both international organizations and the civil society, i.e., the citizens, make each international day a springboard for awareness-raising actions.

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violation in the world. Globally, an estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lives.

Human rights activists have observed 25 November as a day against gender-based violence since 1981. This date was selected to honor the Mirabal sisters, three political activists from the Dominican Republic who were brutally murdered in 1960 at the order of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo (1930–1961).

On 7 February 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations officially designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, inviting governments and civil society to raise public awareness on the issue every year on that date.

A rare image of the Mirabal sisters. Credits.
A rare image of the Mirabal sisters. Credits.

It is important to note that violence against women must be viewed in the context of the atmosphere of violence in society. Today, we will focus on the abuses perpetrated against women from different spiritual communities.

We often think that such issues or problems are generated by people who do not respect the laws, and by abusive or deviant powerful men who can easily play with the lives of others, especially women.

Today, however, we will also examine an angle that is not easy to imagine but is unfortunately easy to observe in several case studies. There are situations when government officials, in some cases following a hidden agenda, are the ones abusing women, physically or psychically. Their aim is to crack down on certain spiritual movements, and the tool used is often to abuse women to obtain from them false statements or confessions.

Labeling a spiritual community a “cult” and accusing the leader of the group of sexual abuse, fraud, or human trafficking, by using statements women disciples are induced or forced to sign, is a common modality the powers that be are using to persecute religious or spiritual movements they do not like.

This was also the main theme of a recently published book where the author, a woman who went through such an experience, concluded that depicting female “cult” members as naive victims of their leaders, even when they deny being victims, is a form of violence against these women.

Thus, the female “cult” member becomes easily a real victim of violence: not by her religious movement, thought, but by the authorities and sometimes by her relatives who believe the accusations spread against the group.

Information leaked to the media and published on front-page articles, often with pictures of women portrayed by the authorities as “victims” of a leader of a new religious movement, regardless of the real statements given by those women, represents also an abuse and a violation of the privacy and rights of these female devotees, and an act of violence against them. Are not the authorities the ones who should supposedly protect the female “victims”? Then, why do they expose publicly their names and lives—often in a version modified by prosecutors or media to fit their own agenda—without having those women’s permission?

And we don’t speak about countries where democracy is still under challenge, or women’s rights are not respected.  We refer to case studies of spiritual practitioners and the abuses they suffered from authorities in Romania, Czechia, Italy, Uruguay, and other democratic countries.   

Also, I want to refer to the situation of women of the Tai Ji Men spiritual community in Taiwan. All the years of accusations and abuses against Tai Ji Men certainly reflected on the private and social lives of its women dizi (disciples).

They have been ridiculed, bullied, and discriminated against in schools, universities, and workplaces, they have faced difficulties in their family lives, and they have had to devote their best years to fight for justice.

The Shimu, the wife of the Tai Ji Men’s Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, was detained in 1996 together with her husband, and later recognized as innocent of all charges, as her husband was.

Tai Ji Men women who protest and defend their rights are easily abused, as it was also the case of Ms. Huang, a volunteer of the Legal and Tax Reform League and a Tai Ji Men dizi (disciple), who was mistreated by the police on September 19, 2020, for simply holding a protest sign.

Tai Ji Men women were not heard when they repeatedly explained that what they offered to their Shifu in the so-called red envelopes were gifts, not tuition fees of an alleged cram school as the National Taxation Bureau had maintained. For example, Dong Heng-E, a Tai Ji Men dizi, was humiliated when tax bureaucrats refused to see her. Her attempt to meet the director of the National Taxation Bureau of Taipei resulted in a physical assault by security guards that left injuries all over her body. 

Of course, the administrative system, mainly based on the control maintained upon people and money through bureaucracy, can easily become a tool for corruption and unjust or biased taxation.

Female dizi in a Tai Ji Men protest in Taipei.
Female dizi in a Tai Ji Men protest in Taipei.

With all these difficulties, the women dizi of Tai Ji Men are an example through the perseverance and optimism that they show and share by standing for their case, and for their joy of living.

By meeting dizi in different countries, I and others appreciated Dr Hong’s teachings and Tai Ji Men’s approach to the relations between men and women, which are based on equality, mutual respect, trust, responsibility, and harmonious and non-violent solutions of conflicts and controversies.

Tai Ji Men is a community where universal ethical and human rights principles are applied.  Combating violence against women is a natural consequence of these principles. Tai Ji Men’s respect for women, good practices, and beneficial orientation towards love, peace and conscience, thus, continue to help the whole human society to flourish and grow.