Scholars and human rights activists celebrated the World Day of Social Justice and reflected on the Tai Ji Men case.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
An article already published in Bitter Winter on March 1st, 2022.
On February 20, 2022, CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized another of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case. The seminar was held on the United Nations World Day of Social Justice under the title “In Search of Justice for Tai Ji Men.”
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), introduced the webinar and the first part of the video “Voice of Justice”, where international and Taiwanese experts evidenced the injustice and arbitrariness of the actions against Tai Ji Men. Arjona Pelado reminded the audience of how the World Day of Social Justice was introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, and first observed in 2009. He added that it is becoming a tradition for several human rights organizations to call the attention on the Tai Ji Men case on United Nations days of observance celebrating justice and human rights.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as managing director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter,” discussed justice with reference to the cycles of frescoes on the good and the bad government painted in the 14th century by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena’s City Hall. He showed that the message of Lorenzetti has universal value, and resonates with the teachings of the founder of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, and many other spiritual masters. It presents justice’s fruits as peace, love, and social harmony.
Lorenzetti also painted the unjust government, Tyranny, which denies justice, favors corruption, and causes persecution and unhappiness. Again, this negative image transcends the time when it was painted, Introvigne said, and perfectly describes the attitude of the corrupt Taiwanese bureaucrats who persecuted Tai Ji Men. Introvigne expressed the hope that Dr. Hong and his “dizi” (disciples) may soon visit Siena and perhaps produce a video explaining how Lorenzetti’s masterpiece reveals deep truths about both a righteous and an unjust social order.
Stephen Enada, president and co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), a Baptist pastor, and a well-known human rights activist, told the webinar how impressed he was when he learned about the Tai Ji Men case, which he defined as one of “egregious abuse and consequently denial of rights by the Taiwan government.” He noted that the United States do not have diplomatic relations but have nonetheless a “security partnership” with Taiwan. Many Western countries are also important business partners of Taiwan. Enada suggested to make the Tai Ji Men case known to those who do business with Taiwan, and also to lobby the U.S. Congress for reviewing the present security partnership agreement, by including in it provisions about human rights. Perhaps these actions may persuade the Taiwanese government to solve the Tai Ji Men case, Enada said.
Debora Cavallo is a board member of Fedinsieme (Faith Together), an organization founded in Torino, Italy, by attorney Francesco Curto, who introduced her to Tai Ji Men and the Tai Ji Men case, which she characterized as one of gross injustice and failure of Taiwan’s legal system to protect its citizens. She also explored possible new tools to make the issue better known internationally. She reported that, for example, to raise awareness on the dangers of religious fundamentalism Fedinsieme is organizing a marathon where participants will run through the streets of Torino and then listen to a panel of speakers. This is just an example, Cavallo said, of how in her opinion new ways for attracting the attention on important issues such as the case of Tai Ji Men should be continuously sought.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, introduced the second part of the video “Voice of Justice,”featuring several members of Taiwan’s Parliament, as well as praise of Tai Ji Men from subsequent Presidents of Taiwan, and six dizi who presented their testimonies.
Peter Lin, who leads a multinational software team for an electric company in Taiwan, reported how, when he was working for a German corporation, he was taught that hardware design is not based on intuition or experience but on rigorous science. This involves planning, and predicting taxes with certainty is part of planning even in the science sector. Lin mentioned the sad experience of Dr. Yeh Yang-Chun, a biotechnology expert who came from the United States to Taiwan answering a call from the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs. When in Taiwan, it took him ten years to explain that what the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) taxed as a salary was in fact a stock option, until the Control Yuan intervened. Meanwhile, the NTB had prevented Yeh from leaving Taiwan. Since his wife lived in the United States, this resulted in a divorce. Dr. Yeh’s experience is similar to Dr. Hong’s and Tai Ji Men, Lin said. Both prove that legal and tax reforms are urgently needed in Taiwan.
Robin Liang told of how her conscience suggested to her that she became a firefighter after she watched the images of the 2009 Typhoon Morakot disaster, when a village of the Siaolin tribe near Kaohsiung was wiped out and 474 died.
She worked as a firefighter and later accompanied Dr. Hong to important international events such as the 2016 International Folklore Festival in Gulpilhares, Portugal, and the 2017 World Leader Summit of Love and Peace in Midtown Manhattan, New York, where the President of the Republic of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau, who rang the Bell of World Peace and Love in 2016, also participated.
As a firefighter, Robin was involved in the 2014 explosion in Kaohsiung that killed 32 and injured 321. She reported that for firefighters too there is a system of bonuses in Taiwan rewarding efforts in disaster relief and rescue. However, the Tai Ji Men case persuaded her that the system of bonuses is dangerous and may lead to corruption, particularly when bureaucrats get a percentage on tax bills, no matter how ill-founded.
Howard Kuan, a first-year college student in Taiwan, discussed his dream as a young man who was the son of a music teacher and had some musical talent to work in the music industry as a teacher, performer, or recording engineer. However, he analyzed the situation of the music industry in Taiwan, concluded that there were no reasonably-paid jobs available there, and switched to information science. This story, Kuan explained, has more than a personal interest. What causes the difficult situation of the music industry, and of other industries and professions in Taiwan, is the fact that the tax system is capricious, unpredictable, and plagued by the corruption of some bureaucrats. The Tai Ji Men case is an egregious example of these problems, Kuan said, but the lack of social justice because of tax corruption is systemic in Taiwan and calls for a deep reform.
Ho Ai-Chi, a marketing manager in Taiwan, reported that she was seven years old in 1996, when Dr. Hong, his wife, and two dizi were arrested and the Tai Ji Men case started. The events shattered her confidence in the police and the government, although later Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were proclaimed innocent of all charges. Ho offered a summary of the Tai Ji Men case. She said she felt inspired by the support offered to Tai Ji Men by international scholars and by Pusin Tali, the first and current Taiwan’s Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom and the President of the Yu-Shan Theological College and Seminary. Ho said she does not feel like a victim but as a defender of human rights and of other victims, as she also tries to support others outside Tai Ji Men who have suffered because of unjust tax bills.
Steve Liu, a Taiwanese software engineer, observed that Dr. Hong was the first Taiwanese prosecuted under the absurd charge of “raising goblins,” although in the end the fabrications against him collapsed. Liu also mentioned other cases where extravagant tax bills were issued against innocent citizens. While some of these citizens were finally able to obtain relief, the Tai Ji Men case is still not solved. Liu mentioned a statement by former legislator Hsu Tien-Tsai, who insisted that the Tai Ji Men case is the first test of President Tsai Ing-Wen’s promises that she would restore justice and the rule of law.
Shelly Tu, a certified public accountant in Taiwan, described herself as part of the Taiwanese “strawberry generation” (which “bruises easily” like strawberries). That generation went through several crises, from SARS to national economic problems and then to COVID-19. As an accountant, she explained how wasteful spending, sometimes clearly corrupt and fraudulent, and the wrong decision by former Minister of Finances Chang Sheng-Ford to levy taxes on capital gain (CGT, capital gain tax), created economic disasters. They led to a hunt for more money from the taxpayers, who were squeezed without considering or respecting their rights. This, Tu said, is a symptom of a distorted mindset, and also explains the attitude of some tax bureaucrats in the Tai Ji Men case, which foreign scholars and human rights activists so often find impossible to understand.
Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist and director-in-charge of “Bitter Winter,” presented two videos. The first was about a Roman tax collector in the Jewish city of Jericho called Zacchaeus. Once corrupt, Zacchaeus recovered his conscience when he met Jesus.
In the second video, “The Absurd World Outside the Aquarium,” fishes and other inhabitants of the sea, speaking with the voices of Tai Ji Men children, discuss the Tai Ji Men case and conclude that the world of the humans is less logic and reasonable than their animal one.
Respinti offered the conclusions of the webinar by warning against the ideological use of social justice by modern totalitarian regimes, who have killed millions of innocents in its name. Yet, Respinti said, the concept of social justice is not intrinsically ideological, and remains crucial as its put together two key values, justice and social harmony achieved by giving all citizens their due. When these values are not respected, as the 5th-century philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo famously said, states become organized robbery. The Tai Ji Men case, Respinti concluded, places Taiwan, a country he loves and admires, at risk of being blamed as “organized robbery” with the old words of Augustine.
A song expressing hope for the future coming of an era of conscience concluded the event. It reminded the audience that, no matter how much injustice there is in this world, conscience and justice may always prevail.