Friendship is an important component of Tai Ji Men’s message. And many became friends fighting together against the injustices vested on them.
by Massimo Introvigne
An article already published in Bitter Winter on August 4th, 2021.
Every month CESNUR, the parent organization of Bitter Winter, and Human Rights Without Frontiers organize a webinar discussing issues of freedom of religion or belief around the Tai Ji Men case. The dates are normally connected with international days observed by the United Nations. July 30 was International Day of Friendship, and on July 31 the monthly webinar was devoted to “Building Friendships Around the Tai Ji Men cause.”
The webinar was introduced by Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers. He told the story of the International Day of Friendship, which was first proposed in Paraguay in July 1958 by Dr. Ramon Artemio Bracho during a dinner with friends in the town of Puerto Pinasco. The World Friendship Crusade was thus born. Since then, July 30 has been celebrated as Friendship Day in Paraguay every year, and has progressively been adopted by several other countries. The World Friendship Crusade has also lobbied the United Nations for many years to recognize July 30 as World Friendship Day. Finally, on May 20, 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to designate July 30 as the International Day of Friendship. In some countries, it became very popular. For example, in Argentina “seats in most restaurants, bars, and other establishments are often completely booked a week before the celebration,” Fautré said. He concluded mentioning that “in Taiwan, Tai Ji Men is responding to the call of the United Nations by mobilizing all its human forces not only to celebrate and enjoy this special day but to give a new impetus to its program of solidarity with victims of injustice in Taiwan. In particular vulnerable and anonymous victims of undue or arbitrary harassment by the National Taxation Bureau.”
A video was then introduced on Tai Ji Men’s participation to the International Religious Freedom Summit last month in Washington DC, where they organized two side events and gathered a significant support from international authorities.
Konrad Swenninger, co-founder of the NGO Soteria International, mentioned the role of his organization, established in 2007, to combat the “mediabolization,” or demonization through media slander, of religious and spiritual minorities. He noted that a similar strategy was used against Tai Ji Men, which obtained some good results in reacting to it, winning court cases and eliciting international sympathy, although the tax injustice against them has not yet been repaired or solved.
Daniela Bovolenta of Bitter Winter noted the efforts of the shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, as a leader of the Association of World Citizens, which promotes friendship between countries through individual friendship between their citizens. She then described the Bell of Peace as a symbol of peace, love, and friendship, and how around the Bell of Peace initiatives promoted by Dr. Hong, genuine friendships flourished. She contrasted the joyous atmosphere of Dr. Hong’s peace events with the sadness of the protests against the injustices perpetrated against Tai Ji Men in Taiwan, but concluded that they were opportunities to develop new friendships too, as true friends manifest themselves in difficult times and not in good times only.
I contributed a reflection on friendship as something based on conscience, as the Roman lawyer and scholar Cicero, who was the first Western thinker to use the word “conscience” in the modern moral meaning, once said. Both conscience and friendship became suspicious concepts in the West due to the destructive philosophical criticism of Friedrich Nietzsche and others. Hence the global importance of Dr. Hong’s international efforts to rehabilitate the notion of conscience, which is a necessary root of friendship. How effective Dr. Hong has been was proved, paradoxically, by the protests against the tax injustice in Taipei, where dizi (disciples) of Tai Ji Men not only proved the friendship existing between themselves in a moment of crisis but were also able to make new friends all over the world.
Hans Noot, president of the Dutch Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief, presented an impressive list of violations of law perpetrated by the rogue bureaucrats who created and maintained first the legal persecution and then the tax persecution of Tai Ji Men. Sadly, the fact that they were not punished, proved that sometimes “corruption pays off,” Noot said, showing also how the case remains seriously detrimental for the international image of Taiwan.
He then introduced a video on the serious damages done to the properties of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men in the years when they remained under seizure, and six witnesses.
Professor Chang Chia-Lin from Taiwan’s Aletheia University described the slow and imperfect democratization after Martial Law was repealed in 1987 in Taiwan, evidenced by the 1996 crackdown on several religious and spiritual organizations for political reasons. Most of these cases were resolved, but the Tai Ji Men case was stubbornly maintained by the National Taxation Bureau, whose mistakes, Chang said, should be acknowledged by Taiwan’s government and corrected.
Carrie Fang, a lawyer from Taiwan, reviewed the violations of Taiwanese law by the National Taxation Bureau. She argued that there is still time to rectify the mistakes, apply the decisions by Taiwanese courts and the recommendations by the Executive Yuan and the Control Yuan, and bring the case to an end in accordance with justice and the law.
Vivian Chang, a motion graphic designer in the United States, described her experience as a dizi who has been part of Tai Ji Men for 25 years, and the pain caused to her by the persecution. She also mentioned the conference held in Taiwan on July 13, 2021, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the final acquittal of Tai Ji Men defendants by the criminal division of the Supreme Court of Taiwan, which declared them innocent of all charges—which unfortunately did not prevent the tax case from continuing.
Cheng Yawen, a bank executive in London, reflected on her years of cooperation with Dr. Hong in events that brought a message of peace, love, and friendship to countries in all continents. This significant contribution to the international image of Taiwan contrasts with the injustices vested on Tai Ji Men by the National Taxation Bureau. These injustices, Cheng said, show that the democratic system of checks and balances does not work properly. Protesting them is a battle not for Tai Ji Men or Taiwan only, but for a global justice and fairness, Cheng concluded.
Jason Tsai, a dizi and a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, reflected on his participation at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC, an encouraging and inspiring event, He expressed the hope that after the Summit the international community may mobilize to help Tai Ji Men and bring the case to a just solution.
Chen Ying-Jing, an academic in Taiwan specialized in environmental protection who is also a dizi, described how Tai Ji Men helped her solving personal problems and gaining a better understanding of conscience and human rights. She used these teachings to consciously participate in the street protests against the tax injustice with her children for more than ten years. She hopes her efforts may contribute to end what she described as a “human rights persecution tragedy.”
Concluding the event Camelia Marin, project coordinator at Soteria International, emphasized the importance of the new books published in English by Tai Ji Men, one collecting articles published in Bitter Winter and The Journal of CESNUR, and one (Who Stole Their Youth?) on the experience of dizi who spent their youth protesting against injustice. She said she felt inspired by so many young men and women who did not give up, for many years. They are, in their own way, a powerful testament to the friendships that were born among these who fought for Tai Ji Men. Sometimes, friendship may change the world.