The injustice vested on Tai Ji Men is obvious. Perhaps new tools are needed to raise awareness of it in Taiwan and internationally.
by Debora Cavallo*
*A paper presented at the webinar “In Search of Justice for Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on February 20, 2022, World Day of Social Justice.
An article already published in Bitter Winter on March 3rd, 2022.
I became aware of the Tai Ji Men movement and its esteemed founder, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, from attorney Francesco Curto, with whom I work in Fedinsieme (Faith Together), who explained to me the activity carried out by the movement and the history of the legal and tax cases, and allowed me to study several documents.
Tai Ji Men’s work of sharing the values and principles of the culture of peace in the world is certainly important. I find it precious and valuable. In particular, promoting the values of the “good citizen” is something admirable, and fosters the virtuous growth and development of modern society.
Modern societies are more and more intercultural and inter-religious. They need to identify solid points of reference, namely examples of virtue. This is why Tai Ji Men’s work should not cease, and I urge them to continue it with an awareness of their precious social role.
The goal of the Tai Ji Men movement and Dr. Hong, then, is a respectable and ambitious one. We know that it is not without obstacles, as speakers in other webinars emphasized, analyzing the legal aspects of the case of Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong. My colleague Francesco Curto emphasized how the actions of Taiwan’s bureaucrats violated the fundamental legal principles of equality (i.e., the same treatment should correspond to the same conditions and circumstances, including in the tax field) and consistency (i.e., the non-tolerance, within the legal system, of contradictions between parties, acts and rules).
Let me enter into the merit of the case. The money offered by the disciples to their master for all the years between 1991 and 1996, except 1992, was regarded as a gift, as such not taxable. When disciples give “red envelopes” to a master they participate in a ritual, and a very ancient one. But for 1992, and only for the year, the money in the red envelopes was considered a tuition fee and taxed as such. The inequality was obvious.
This was justified by the fact that a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court, issued in 2006 and concerning the fiscal year 1992, was final. However, this decision was contradicted by other judicial decisions issued subsequently, which declared that the content of the red envelopes should be considered as gift and not taxed. We see here the contrast. Either these are gifts or taxable tuition fees. They cannot be both. Taiwan’s proper institutions should intervene and correct the contradiction that caused a distortion of the system.
We need justice to guarantee a peaceful social coexistence. Justice corresponds to the fair application of the laws and consists of the set of just social practices that give to everybody their due.
We are fortunate to live in an age of democratic societies in which citizens can express their opinions freely and publicly. I would like to come back to what Dr. Capra said in a previous webinar. He emphasized the principle of participation, which allows citizens to participate in social life through political commitment, the work of trade unions, and peaceful protest. I would add that there are also new forms of participation and of explaining issues and problems to the public opinion.
When I joined Fedinsieme, I learned about new and ingenious ways to promote the awareness of certain issues among the general public. For example, to call the attention of citizens on the dangers of religious fundamentalism, we planned to organize a marathon, and we are currently organizing it. This is a race throughout the city of Turin. Citizens will be invited to participate and testify against the dangers of fundamentalism not with words but through an athletic gesture. Then they will sit and listen to a roundtable on the theme.
The case of Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong, with its obvious violations of the principles of equality and the coherence and non-contradiction of the legal system, led me, and perhaps should lead all of us, to reflect on the tools of participation. What new tools may be useful to raise awareness of the case? What tools would promote legal and tax reform? Perhaps Tai Ji Men should also consider new tools of communication, as we try to do in Fedinsieme.
The Tai Ji Men tax case should never have existed in the first place and should have been solved long ago. Since it is not so, good citizens are entitled to protest and seek a rectification of the injustice, and perhaps they may add new ways of raising awareness of the case.
Tai Ji Men would do good to keep promoting the ideal of the good citizens, women and men of conscience, respectful of the institutions and the rules but at the same time determined to protect their rights and knowing how to do it in a dignified and peaceful way.