Those who argue that solving the long-lasting case (whose injustice is demonstrated by the tragedy of the Swiss Mountain Villa) is now legally impossible are wrong.

by Arthur Hsieh*

*A paper presented at the 4th international ISFORB (Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion and Belief) conference, Evangelical Theological Faculty, Leuven, Belgium. May 3, 2024.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on May 7th, 2024.

Arthur Hsieh presenting his paper at the 4th ISFORB conference, with co-panelist Liu Yin-Chun, right.
Arthur Hsieh presenting his paper at the 4th ISFORB conference, with co-panelist Liu Yin-Chun, right.

I am a dizi (disciple) of Tai Ji Men and currently work as a product manager at a technology company. As other dizi, I have experienced the beauty of participating in cultural exchanges throughout the world, sometimes interacting with people whose languages I did not speak, yet sharing good will and positive energy. I understood the deep meaning of a speech by our leader, Dr. Hong, who in 1999 in the United States explained that Tai Ji Men has long been an esoteric tradition but now it was time for the dizi to spread openly what they had learned to all parts of a suffering world desperately in need of their message.

In this session, you already heard about the essential story of the Tai Ji Men case. In my paper, I will first add another story that for Tai Ji Men is an important part of the case. I will then discuss the question what can be done now to solve the Tai Ji Men case.

My story concerns the saga of the Swiss Mountain Villa. One of the most beautiful properties of Tai Ji Men is part of a complex called the Swiss Mountain Villa in Xixhi, near Taipei. It is a different property from the land that was seized in 2020, which is in Miaoli, located at more than 100 kilometers from Taipei. The Swiss Mountain Villa property was also intended as a practice center for Tai Ji Men dizi, and facilities should have been developed there to host foreign disciples visiting Taiwan.

In 1997, the property was part of the assets frozen by Prosecutor Hou during his ill-founded prosecution of Tai Ji Men. In the same year, the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) issued tax bills to Dr. Hong, as a by-product of the criminal case, and imposed a restraint on disposition on Dr. Hong’s properties in the Villa community. When in 2003 Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were declared not guilty in the first criminal decision, the properties were unfrozen, but were compelled to be used as a collateral in the tax case. In 2007, the Supreme Court ended the criminal case by finding all the Tai Ji Men defendants not guilty, but the National Taxation Bureau did not unfreeze the Swiss Mountain Villa property. In fact, in 2019 it seized it as part of its attempt to enforce the illegal tax bill for 1992. Finally, in 2020, when the land in Miaoli was confiscated, the Swiss Mountain Villa properties were returned to Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men.

The Swiss Mountain Villa in its present state.
The Swiss Mountain Villa in its present state.

By that time, however, 23 years, 5 months, and 7 days had elapsed since a restraint on disposition was first imposed on the property in 1997. The once beautiful property had not been taken care of and appeared destitute and dilapidated. In fact, it was almost in ruins. It serves today as a historical site documenting the injustice suffered by Tai Ji Men.

The question is whether the Tai Ji Men case can be solved today. Some may argue that the decision to confiscate the land in Miaoli is final and all legal remedies have been exhausted. This argument, however, is not correct. The answer to the question whether it is possible to solve the Tai Ji Men case now is yes.

Article 117 of the Administrative Procedure Act of Taiwan allows to annul an erroneous or unjust administrative decision at any time. Thus, all the decisions leading to the confiscation of the sacred land of Tai Ji Men in Miaoli can be annulled, and this land can be returned to its legitimate owners.

The question, thus, is why this is not happening, despite continuous petitions and requests by Tai Ji Men dizi, politicians, human rights organizations, and Taiwanese and international academics. One reason is the system of bonuses, which makes tax bureaucrats extremely reluctant to revise decisions about tax bills, thus running the risk of having to give back bonuses they have already pocketed.

Tai Ji Men protests against the bonus system.
Tai Ji Men protests against the bonus system.

Another is the general tendency of the tax authorities to protect their own decisions and personnel. Very rarely did they admit in Taiwan that one of their decisions was wrong. Indeed, the Tai Ji Men case led dizi in Taiwan to study the systemic problems of the tax administration. We uncovered and documented numerous cases of blatant tax injustice. We now fight for a broader tax and law reform in the interest of all citizens of Taiwan.

We also believe that the Tai Ji Men case, which originated twenty-eight years ago, is a residue of the post-authoritarian years of Taiwan, when democratic principles were not fully implemented. Religious and spiritual movements accused of not supporting the ruling party were repressed through administrative tools, including taxes. As such, the Tai Ji Men case is not only a tax issue. It is one of freedom of religion or belief. Solving it is also part of transitional justice. Taiwan prides itself of being a beacon of democracy in a part of the world plagued by non-democratic regimes. To fully affirm this image, it should solve the residual problems coming from its authoritarian past.