Good politics is a form of charity. Tax persecution is its contrary, a manifestation of political malevolence.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
An article already published in Bitter Winter on September 12th, 2022.
September 5, 2022, was the United Nations International Day of Charity. The Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, with the title “Political Charity and the Tai Ji Men Case.”
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. He mentioned that the United Nations defines charity as philanthropy and benevolence, and also recommends that “charities,” i.e., benevolent organizations, be tax-exempt, which is relevant for the Tai Ji Men case.
Arjona Pelado then presented the video “The Story of Buddha—Beautiful Chariots.” The video features a story from the “Lotus Sutra” Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as managing director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, told at an event in Vienna on October 10, 2019, organized by FOWPAL (the Federation of World Peace and Love) and presided by Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men.
The story is about a large house on fire inhabited by three rich brothers. They are too spoiled to pay attention to the fire. Their father, who is a figure of the Buddha, then sends three beautiful chariots to entice the brothers, who board them and escape the fire. They still do not understand that the house is on fire, but are lured by the beauty of the chariots. Dr. Hong’s message, the video explained, has the same role as these chariots. It offers a way out from our world, which is truly on fire. It is presented internationally through beautiful events and performances. Just as the Buddha did, Dr. Hong knows that some may not fully understand the message and may just be attracted by its beautiful presentation. It does not matter, Introvigne comments on the video, they will board the chariots anyway and will be saved.
Arjona Pelado then introduced the first two speakers. The first was Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, who explained that the date of the International Day of Charity, September 5, commemorates the death of Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910–1997) on September 5, 1997. She was a Catholic nun born in present-day North Macedonia in an Albanian family, who decided to spend her life in India at the service of the terminally ill and the poor. The Catholic Church venerates her as a saint.
Yet, Fautré explained, her life was not easy. Some accused her of operating a “cult.” In India, it was suspected that she and her nuns assisted Hindu sick persons in the hope of converting them to Catholicism. The accusation, Fautré noted, was actually false, but has led to limitation of their activities, including through financial measures such as preventing them from receiving funds from abroad and removing their tax-exempt status. Financial measures in the shape of abusive taxation have also been used against Tai Ji Men, Fautré concluded. This confirms that those who promote humanitarian and charitable activities often make powerful enemies who try to harass them in various ways, including through taxes.
The second speaker, Massimo Introvigne, quoted statements by Catholic Popes, starting from Pius XI (1857–1939), that politics is the highest form of charity after the love of God. Since we understand concepts through their opposites, Introvigne said,—for instance, to appreciate what “hot” means we need an idea of “cold”—, we can grasp the meaning of “political charity” only by looking at its opposite, political malevolence. This is the rulers’ attempt to destroy those they govern.
Introvigne gave the historical example of Populonia, in ancient times one of the largest European cities, located in what is today Tuscany, in Italy, and now reduced to a few ruins. The Etruscan city, Introvigne explained, was not destroyed by its Roman conquerors but by the political malevolence of a Roman dictator of the 1st century BCE, Sulla (138–78 BCE). He regarded Populonia as a hotbed of his opponents and decided to destroy it—not by tearing down buildings or killing citizens but by imposing extravagant taxes. He succeeded, and what had been a magnificent city disappeared, but Rome was deprived of a strategic port that would have been useful in subsequent wars. As the 19th-century Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court John Marshall (1755–1835) said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” However, the destruction of Populonia through taxes was a tragic mistake that ultimately damaged the Roman power. This is a lesson, Introvigne concluded, for the Taiwanese authorities and their self-destructive path of persecuting Tai Ji Men.
Arjona Pelado then introduced the chair of the second session, Petar Gramatikov, a hierodeacon of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Chief Expert in religious questions of the Municipality of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and representative to the United Nations institutions in Geneva of the global grassroots interfaith network United Religions Initiative. He is also a member of the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Gramatikov expressed the hope that, as the interest for the Tai Ji Men case becomes increasingly international and globalized, Taiwan’s authorities will finally be led to solve it.
Gramatikov also presented a video on the 21st anniversary of the foundation of the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in San Jose, California, for which several personalities sent congratulatory messages. The ceremony was presided by Dr. Hong and featured California State Senator Dave Cortese and Representative Ro Khanna, who rang Tai Ji Men’s Bell of World Peace and Love.
Gramatikov then introduced the testimonies of five dizi (disciples) of Tai Ji Men. Stella Liang, agent of a state-owned enterprise, mentioned the different Chinese translations of the Western word “charity,” which convey both the ideas of “love” and “auspicious deeds.” She found these concepts at the heart of Dr. Hong’s teachings, both in her personal life and in international events she attended, including the 2019 20th International Conference of Chief Justices of the World at the City Montessori School in Lucknow, India. She learned that acts of love indeed lead to solving problems. both in our personal lives and the life of the nations. She also mentioned the recent Indo-Pacific Regional Religious Freedom Forum inaugurated in Taipei by President Tsai Ing-Wen. The event manifested the irony of the fact that, while promoting religious liberty internationally, Taiwan is still incapable of solving its problem of freedom of religion or belief at home, including the Tai Ji Men case.
Lilian Liu, a recent graduate and editor, recalled different experience in her life as a dizi, focusing on this year 2022 in particular. She traveled to Turkey for a cultural event and was very moved by the enthusiasm of the local population when dizi sang and danced in a public square. Even a deaf man expressed his enthusiasm. She also participated in the Tai Ji Men protests during the May 9–13 3rd International Review Conference on the National Reports of the Two Covenants, i.e., the two main United Nations human rights covenants that Taiwan incorporated in 2009 into its domestic law. Unfortunately, the review by international experts did not address tax reform nor the Tai Ji Men case, despite the fact that the latter is now internationally well-known, Liu said.
Hung Yucheng (Morrison), a college student, reported that he grew up in a family of dizi and started attending Tai Ji Men events at a young age. However, it was in this year 2022 during a trip to Sweden and Turkey that for the first time he personally saw distinguished personalities ringing the Bell of World Peace and Love. In this International Day of Charity, Hung paid homage to the message of charity and love of Mother Theresa, who in 2009 emerged from a poll in the United States as the most respected figure of the 20th century. This message, Hung said, resonates with the teachings of Tai Ji Men. He also lamented that these teachings were misunderstood, and Shifu and dizi were persecuted, by rogue bureaucrats whose evil deeds were the opposite of charity and benevolence.
Jenny Lin, who works as a technical manager in the Security and Safety Department of a company in Taiwan, described the improvements in her physical and psychological health she experienced after she joined Tai Ji Men in 1994. This was just two years before the crackdown of 1996 and the beginning of the Tai Ji Men case. In retrospect, Lin said she admires the perseverance of Shifu and dizi in carrying on their activities notwithstanding the persecution. They continued to bring their message of peace and love to the world. However, the bureaucrats who persecuted Tai Ji Men have been stubborn, too, and have continued their harassment until the confiscation of sacred land intended for a self-cultivation center in 2020. Lin vowed to continue to fight for justice and a solution of the Tai Ji Men case, inspired by Mother Theresa’s motto that “not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Eric Shen, an IT manager, shared his experience of growing up with an alcoholic father, who overcame his addiction to alcohol after he joined Tai Ji Men. Shen said his father’s story became well-known among dizi and inspired many who had similar problems. He also reported how he traveled to Sweden and Turkey with Dr. Hong this year, accompanied by his wife and 14-year-old daughter, to participate in cultural events. He was very moved to note how the political and cultural leaders who rang the Bell of World Peace and Love described it as a life-changing experience. On a less positive side, he also experienced the tax harassment of Tai Ji Men by Taiwanese bureaucrats: a sad set of incidents, Shen said, not only for Shifu and dizi but also for Taiwan, whose image as a democracy continues to be tarnished by the case.
Marco Respinti, an Italian scholar and journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, offered the conclusions of the webinar. In commenting the webinar’s papers, he noted that political charity found in the Western world since Medieval times an expression in the “tregua Dei,” or “God’s truce,” also called “God’s peace.” It was a series of measures that prohibited war in certain places and periods of the year, including at Christmas. Although it was no longer part of international law, at Christmas 1914 German, British, and French soldiers in the battlefields of Ypres, in the West Flanders, Belgium, spontaneously decided to observe it. They went to meet each other peacefully, sang together, and even played a game of soccer. It was a miracle of sort, which became the subject matter of movies and songs to this very day.
Tai Ji Men, Respinti says, needs a “permanent Christmas truce” from Taiwan’s authorities, but it can only be reached by telling the truth about their case. He quoted French journalist and historian Jacques Crétineau-Joly (1803–1875), who famously said that “truth is the only charity allowed to history,” something that is also true for Tai Ji Men.
The event concluded with the video “Ancient Chinese Emperor’s Rescripts for Penitence.” The “Rescripts for Penitence” were peculiar documents in which Chinese Emperors recognized their mistakes, admitted they had caused both natural and human-made disasters, and announced reforms. The video presented the “Rescript for Penitence” of Emperor Wu of Han (156–87 BCE), who showed sincere repentance, prohibited inter alia to increase taxes, and saved his dynasty. By contrast, Emperor Chongzhen of Ming (1611–1644) issued six “Rescripts for Penitence” but was not sincere about his repentance and continued with his mistakes. Ultimately, he was defeated by the peasant revolt of Li Zicheng (1606–1645), committed suicide, and the Ming dynasty came to an end. Would present-day governments learn these lessons?