The principle of nonviolent action is a cornerstone of Dr. Hong’s message. Patiently, dizi apply it to their quest for justice.
by Daniela Bovolenta
An article already published in Bitter Winter on October 11th, 2021.
CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, the parent organization of Bitter Winter, and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers continue organizing bi-monthly webinars around the Tai Ji Men case. They are normally connected to United Nations’ international days. October 2 was International Day of Non-Violence, and on its eve, October 1, a webinar was organized on “Non-Violence and the Tai Ji Men Case.”
Alessandro Amicarelli, a London-based human rights attorney, and the chairperson of FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) chaired the webinar, and reminded the audience of the long non-violent journey of Tai Ji Men, a 25-year-long effort to protest religious persecution and tax harassment. He introduced a video where victims of tax injustice in Taiwan told their moving stories.
Massimo Introvigne, the editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, discussed the origins of the concept of non-violence, which is very important for Tai Ji Men’s leader Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, in Gandhi’s model of satyagraha, which had deep religious roots in Jainism in addition to Hinduism. Commenting on composer Philip Glass’ opera on Gandhi, Satyagraha, Introvigne noted that the Gandhian model of non-violent struggle was born in South Africa, and had his key moment in the 1913 march of Indian immigrants and their supporters from Natal to Transvaal, whose aim was to protest discriminations against the Indian minority through taxes. Introvigne concluded that the fact that Gandhi’s non-violence finds its origins in a protest against tax injustice may be an inspiration for Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples), whose protest is also seeking tax justice through non-violent means.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, commented on the story of Ms. Huang, a volunteer for the Legal and Tax Reform League and a Tai Ji Men dizi who was detained by the police on September 19, 2020, while she was protesting in a non-violent way against the injustices vested on Tai Ji Men by the National Taxation Bureau and the National Enforcement Agency. Ms. Huang’s story, Fautré said, is an example of how non-violent protest is often repressed through violent means, and this confirms that the authorities become uncomfortable when the truth about their wrongdoings is publicly proclaimed.
Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, discussed the notions of “tax injustice” and “tax persecution.” Respinti mentioned American businessman Dallas Hostetler who invented the “Tax Freedom Day,” i.e., the first day in each year when the income of citizens, which has been totally used to pay taxes before that date, finally becomes available for the taxpayers’ personal use. For example, Respinti said, in the fiscal year 2018 Italy celebrated its “Tax Freedom Day” on June 4, meaning that all money earned before June 4 only served to pay the taxes for the year 2018. When taxation is clearly excessive, protests follow with unpredictable consequences, as the Boston Tea Party of 1773, which started as a tax protest and ended up playing a crucial role in the independence of the United States, demonstrated. Tai ji Men dizi, Respinti concluded, offer an excellent example of a principled, moral, and non-violent protest against unjust taxes. All friends of human rights should wish them to succeed.
Camelia Marin, project coordinator of the NGO Soteria International, took over from Amicarelli to introduce a video about Tai Ji Men’s visit to New York during the tragic events of 9/11 and again in 2021, twenty years after the terrorist attacks. Marin stressed the importance of testimonies in understanding spiritual movements and complicated cases such as the Tai Ji Men tax persecution.
Marin then introduced several testimonies and experts. Su Huan-Zhi, former mayor of Tainan County and legislator, currently a prominent lawyer in Taiwan, noted that the criminal prosecution of Tai Ji Men was clearly unreasonable and based on several illegal actions by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, and the subsequent tax bills were even more unreasonable. Taiwanese law, Su said, should be amended to make it clear that legal and administrative decisions based on obvious injustice and mistakes may always be revised when new facts emerge, irrespective of the statutes of limitation.
Huang Mei-Juan, a former revenue officer in Taiwan, identified the root cause of tax abuse in Taiwan in the system of bonuses given to bureaucrats and intended as a supplement to a salary that is regarded as not high enough. In 2003 legislator Chu Shing-Yu proposed to abolish the bonus system, and some reforms were introduced in 2005. However, Huang said, the Tai Ji Men case confirms that reforms were not enough, and the system of bonuses should be abolished completely.
Chiu Yi-Chan, a dizi and a volunteer of Action Alliance to Redress 1219, an NGO calling for tax justice in the Tai Ji Men and other cases, told his story as a former military man who during the COVID pandemic became an anti-epidemic airport officer. He reported the significant benefits he and his father derived from practicing Qigong and self-cultivation in Tai Ji Men. Tai Ji Men was invited to present the closing cultural performance during Taiwan’s National Day celebration in 2010, and Tai Ji Men members devote time to practice martial arts and cultural performances every weekend. He remembered vividly that a group of young brothers was practicing and sweating under the scorching sun. One day when they were about to rush out to start their practice, many of them could not help but shed tears because on the one hand they had to practice to celebrate the country’s birthday, but on the other hand the government was going to auction off their sacred land!
Judith Chiu, a dizi and channel director in an international software company in Taiwan, told of both her happy days in Tai Ji Men and the sad days when she took to the streets with thousands of friends to protest the injustice. During the protests, she said, she understood that not only the tax bills against Tai Ji Men had been deliberately fabricated to destroy them—it was not simply a mistake, she insisted, but one of Taiwan’s over ten million of tax cases in Taiwan that have been enforced.
Tseng Ting-Yu, a dizi and senior marketing representative in a Taiwanese electronic company, revisited the main facts of the Tai Ji Men case, and the illegal activities of the National Taxation Bureau and the National Enforcement Agency. She called the incidents “a demon-revealing mirror, highlighting the flaws of Taiwan’s bureaucratic tax system,” as well as the unwillingness to confront the tax problem of many Taiwanese politicians and citizens.
Arthur Hsieh, a dizi who works in Taiwan as a product engineer, returned to the multiple connections between Dr. Hong, the shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, and Mahatma Gandhi. In 2010, Dr. Hong received the Mahatma Gandhi Award of the City Montessori School for his contribution to world peace and love and for his contribution toward global consensus from the Minister of Urban Development and Environment of Uttar Pradesh, in India. The award is established to highlight Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of “Adhere to the Truth.” Gandhi, Hsieh said, promoted non-violence, but non-violence is not inertia. Not doing anything when injustice is perpetrated is not non-violence but cowardice.
Marco Respinti commented that Tseng’s and Hsieh’s testimonies reminded him of a famous statement by 18th-century Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Susan Palmer, one of the best-known international scholars of new religious movements and a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, concluded the webinar. She recalled her long experience as a scholar studying repression of groups discriminated as “cults” in various countries in the world. She also studied different instances of peaceful and non-peaceful protests, including those organized by Abbie Hoffman and the Yippie movement in the 1960s in the United States.
Palmer said that she has often found that taxes are a “sneaky” way to discriminate against and crack down on religious minorities. Palmer reported that during her first visits to Taiwan she had the impression that the country after the Martial Law period was enjoying religious liberty, however, the 1996 crackdown on several spiritual movements and its tax after-effects targeting Tai Ji Men show that serious problems still exist. It is very honorable for Tai Ji Men, she said, that they always reacted to gross injustice by maintaining and upholding the principle of non-violence. All participants called on the Taiwanese government to finally bring the case to a solution. A musical video “Human Rights for All Citizens” with Tai Ji Men music and uplifting lyrics concluded the webinar.