On United Nations Human Solidarity Day, scholars and human rights experts reflected on Tai Ji Men’s teachings about solidarity. They also expressed their solidarity to Tai Ji Men.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 23rd, 2023.
On December 20, 2023, United Nations Human Solidarity Day, CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, under the title “Learning Solidarity from Tai Ji Men.”
Daniela Bovolenta, an Italian author who is often published in “Bitter Winter,” introduced the webinar by reflecting on the fact that for Europeans of her generation “Solidarity” is the name of a Polish independent trade union that became a political movement, “Solidarność.” Founded in in 1980 based on the teachings on solidarity and social justice of the then newly elected Polish Pope John Paul II, what started as a labor union not authorized by the Communist regime evolved into a mass movement that led to the collapse of Communism in Poland and in the whole Eastern Europe.
Bovolenta noted that the unexpected success of Solidarność was due to the fact that, although it was persecuted and some of its leaders were even killed, it always answered with peaceful and non-violent demonstrations. Although Taiwan’s context is different from Communist Poland, Bovolenta concluded, Solidarność’ victory may give hope to Tai Ji Men, as it proved that non-violent movements based on spirituality and justice may achieve their aims and defeat persecution.
Bovolenta then presented two videos. The first chronicled the unveiling on December 19, 2023, on the 27th anniversary of the beginning of the Tai Ji Men case on December 19, 1996, of a monument commemorating the injustice vested on the movement’s Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, and dizi (disciples).
Significantly, the monument was unveiled, with an important speech by Dr. Hong on the deeper meaning of human rights, in the Swiss Mountain Villa, a beautiful property intended for a Tai Ji Men spiritual academy that was half-destroyed by the maneuvers and carelessness of rogue tax bureaucrats.
In the second video, Dr, Hong offered to participants a message celebrating Human Solidarity Day. We can achieve, Dr. Hong said, peace through solidarity and solidarity through peace. Solidarity was explicitly mentioned in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals as a necessary means to achieve them. Talking about solidarity, Dr. Hong said, is not enough. Solidarity can be learned. Whether we will have, or not, authentic solidarity will depend on our ability to teach it through education. This is another way of saying that the question of world peace and solidarity is largely a question of education.
Bovolenta then introduced the speakers of the first session, Camelia Marin, deputy director of the human rights NGO Soteria International, and Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist and scholar who serves as director-in-charge of “Bitter Winter.”
Marin noted that international institutions often discuss solidarity and peace. However, it seems that the more we proclaim these values, the less they are respected throughout the world. Perhaps we should start learning, Marin said, that peace and solidarity cannot be automatically produced by international treaties or politics. Solidarity and peace are inside us, and it is there that we should find and affirm them. This is, Marin explained, a fundamental teaching of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, and a first lesson we can learn from them. Their second lesson is how to react peacefully and with solidarity to persecution and harassment, including the imposition of unjust tax bills.
The non-violent resistance against injustice of Tai Ji Men lasted for twenty-seven years, Marin said, because of the remarkable solidarity dizi were able to build and maintain with their Shifu and between themselves. In recent years, these solidarity networks extended internationally, as many scholars and human rights activists learned about the Tai Ji Men case and offered their support. Human Solidarity Day, Marin concluded, should be an opportunity to extend and expand this global solidarity with Tai Ji Men.
Respinti explained that solidarity is a key feature of the human “polis,” a word coined by Greek philosopher Plato and difficult to translate. It is what the ancient Romans called in Latin “res publica.” Both “politics” and “republic” are not persuasive translations of “polis” and “res publica,” however. American political philosophers have proposed the translation “commonwealth,” which refers to a community whose citizens acknowledge that they should operate for the common good.
Solidarity is only practiced when citizens understand that there is a common good in society and that, by working for social harmony and the good of their fellow human beings, they promote at the same time their own good. Tai Ji Men affirms solidarity as a value that is grounded in conscience and is ultimately spiritual, Respinti noted. Many dizi Respinti met told him how they learned from Dr. Hong the importance of solidarity with other dizi and with the suffering humanity in general. This solidarity was demonstrated in an exemplary way when Tai Ji Men offered their help after natural disasters but also when they had to face persecution. Respinti concluded by commenting that the bureaucrats who persecuted them are those who have more to learn from Tai Ji Men’s admirable solidarity.
Willy Fautré chaired the second session of the webinar, which started with a video on the Tai Ji Men signature song “Love” and how it was the dizi’s peaceful answer to the persecution that started in 1996, Old dizi who were there in 1996 testified on the anguish and dangers of these days. The song is still moving, they said, after twenty-seven years of persecution. It epitomizes Tai Ji Men dizi’s reaction to slander, hate, and discrimination: being “brave for love,” remain calm, continue to promote peace and conscience throughout the world under the guidance of their Shifu.
Fautré reminded the audience that one day before Human Solidarity Day came the “day of sadness,” December 19, 2023, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the raid that started the Tai Ji Men case in 1996. Fautré noted that all human communities, from nations to families, commemorate the anniversaries of traumatic events. These are not simple memories but attempts to find meaning and hope. It is thus significant that December 19, the day of sadness, was followed by December 20, the day of hope, Human Solidarity Day, as it is solidarity that gives hope to those who suffer persecution such as Tai Ji Men.
Fautré then introduced the testimonies of five dizi. Eric Tai, a university student of Pharmacy, described the global work of Tai Ji Men to promote solidarity, peace, love, and conscience. Dr. Hong took his dizi to visit 103 different countries of the world, spreading everywhere the same message that the world’s problems can only be solved by returning to conscience as our moral compass and acknowledge that all humans are world citizens who should unite in solidarity. Tai reported that he is too young to have personally experienced the events of December 19, 1996. However, he listened to the moving testimonies of his fellow dizi who were there. He finds it hard to understand how the Tai Ji Men case could have been started and remain unsolved after twenty-seven years, despite the obvious fact that Dr. Hong and his dizi were consistently recognized by courts of law innocent of any crime, including tax evasion.
May Wu, a high school teacher, offered a useful summary of the Tai Ji Men case and suggested that its main cause was in the lack of conscience of the bureaucrats who fabricated it. She then reported her personal experience. She was diagnosed with lymphoma just during the COVID-19 pandemic, which frightened her and caused a sense of helplessness. She then experienced the strength of solidarity offered by fellow Tai Ji Men dizi. Although initially reluctant, after COVID-related restrictions were lifted, Wu participated in protests and in the making of short videos about legal and tax reform in Taiwan. It was an experience of solidarity allowing her to feel positive and energetic, despite her illness.
Wu Yi-Huan, an assistant professor, reminded the audience that Human Solidarity Day was added to the U.N. days of observance to affirm the value of unity in diversity. The United Nations asked us to affirm the diversity of cultures, religions, and languages, and at the same time recognize the unity of all human beings, who also face shared challenges that affect all of us. One of these, Wu said, is the violation of the principles of social justice, often caused by corruption. The Tai Ji Men case is an egregious example of social injustice, Wu expressed gratitude to the many international organizations and individuals that offered their solidarity to Tai Ji Men. This solidarity should continue, Wu said, and will one day achieve results.
Selina Liu, a self-media worker, reported that by accompanying her Shifu abroad for international cultural exchanges she broadened her horizons and learned that solidarity and peace are based on understanding and respect. Precisely these values, Liu said, were missing when Tai Ji Men was persecuted by rogue bureaucrats in Taiwan. A government, Liu observed, should protect the stable and peaceful life of its citizens. Unfortunately, this was not granted to Tai Ji Men. However, based on Dr. Hong’s teaching of “doing what is right,” dizi continue to visit dozens of countries with their Shifu and promote peace and love, despite harassment at home.
Sandra Chen, who works as a secretary in a manufacturing company, observed that COVID-19 was a challenging time but also one when many learned that solidarity was needed, both at home and between different countries of the world. The same solidarity is needed in the field of human rights. Chen mentioned her work in Taiwan’s Tax and Legal Reform League, which offered her the opportunity not only to make the Tai Ji Men case more well-known but also to express solidarity to other Taiwanese taxpayers who were unfairly harassed. She gave as an example one Ms. Chang, who had to fight ten years to persuade the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) that she did not have to pay land taxes for a property the NTB insisted belonged to her deceased father. She and her mother knew nothing about the property, but Ms. Chang was prevented from leaving Taiwan as she refused to pay the tax, which affected her job. In the end, the NTB acknowledged they had made a mistake, and the owner of the property was not Ms. Chang’s father but another man with the same name and surname.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and the managing director of CESNUR, who also serves as editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter,” offered the conclusions of the webinar. He noted that Catholic social teaching, which exerted an important influence on Western European politics, is based on two principles: solidarity, which calls all to contribute to the common good, and subsidiarity, asking the state to limit its scope of action to what is really necessary and not to invade the fields of local communities, civil society, families and individuals. Solidarity justifies the request by the state to support the community by paying taxes. The breach of the principle of subsidiarity generates corruption and the request of what the same Catholic social teaching characterizes as “abusive taxes.” Resisting abusive taxes is a human right and does not go against the principle of solidarity. However, this resistance cannot be merely individual and should take the form of collective protest and call for reform. In this sense, Introvigne concluded, we can all learn from Tai Ji Men. Through their work with the Tax and Legal Reform League, although they have not yet solved their own Tai Ji Men case, they have helped many Taiwanese citizens understand that they all suffer from an abusive tax system and change is needed.
The event concluded with two videos. The first presented the demonstration organized on December 19 in Taipei by the Tax and Legal Reform League and by Action Alliance to Redress 1219, an organization calling for the solution of the Tai Ji Men case. Participants asked that the year 2024 will be the one when the Tai Ji Men case will be finally solved, after so many years.
The second was a musical video, “Stop,” proclaiming through music that injustice and violation of human rights should cease.