An international webinar celebrated Tai Ji Men’s contribution to a world culture of tolerance, and asked tolerance for them in Taiwan.

by Daniela Bovolenta

An article already published in Bitter Winter on November 27th, 2023.

The poster for the webinar.
The poster for the webinar.

On November 16, 2023, the United Nations International Day for Tolerance, CESNUR and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their by-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, with the title “Tai Ji Men: Affirming the Core Value of Tolerance.”

Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as the editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter” and managing director of CESNUR, introduced the webinar. Since the Tai Ji Men case is primarily one where a spiritual movement is harassed through unjust taxes, he mentioned a historical case when the words “tolerance” and “tax” were put together to promote intolerance. It was the “tolerance tax” Jews had to pay in Hungary between 1749 and 1846. While anti-Semites called for Jews to be expelled from Hungary, a semi-autonomous kingdom within the Austrian Empire, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria decided that they could stay in the Hungarian territory and practice their religion but had to pay a special tax for this, called “tolerance tax.” This was grossly unjust, Introvigne said: it made tolerance into something that could be bought and sold rather than a right. Tai Ji Men Shifu (Grand Master) and dizi (disciples), Introvigne suggested, were treated in the same way in Taiwan. To be tolerated, they were asked to pay unjust and illegal taxes. Today historians see the “tolerance tax” for the Jews as a matter of shame, for which Europe should apologize. One day, Introvigne concluded, Taiwan should offer similar apologies to Tai Ji Men.

Introvigne then introduced a video where Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, Tai Ji Men’s Shifu, offered his thoughts for the International Day for Tolerance. In the video, Dr. Hong reminded the audience of the basic UN and UNESCO documents calling for tolerance and warning against intolerance. He emphasized that intolerance between religions and cultures is the root cause of the current conflict in the Middle East, which risks escalating into an international crisis. In the global village, Dr. Hong said, we are responsible for affirming tolerance; this is only possible through an education teaching how to respect and affirm other cultures and religions. This education, Dr. Hong concluded, is based on conscience, as he reiterated this Summer when he attended Chicago’s Parliament of World Religions with a large delegation of Tai Ji Men dizi.

Dr. Hong’s video.
Dr. Hong’s video.

Introvigne then introduced the speakers of the first session: Karolina Maria Kotkowska, a researcher at the Center for Comparative Studies of Civilizations at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and Thierry Valle, director of the UN ECOSOC-accredited NGO CAP-LC, specialized in freedom of religion or belief.

Having observed that children are naturally curious and tolerant of different lifestyles, and adults often lose this attitude due to cultural constraints, Kotkowska noted the paradox of religious movements that promote tolerance but are not tolerated themselves by society and politicians. They include the Bahá’ís in Iran, the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, and the Theosophical Society in different countries. The same “paradox of tolerance,” Kotkowska said, affects Tai Ji Men in Taiwan. She emphasized the significant contribution offered by Dr. Hong and his dizi in promoting tolerance throughout the world and establishing its philosophical bases. The paradox is at work, and should be stopped, when rather than being acknowledged for these efforts, Tai Ji Men Shifu and dizi are persecuted and harassed through taxes in Taiwan, Kotkowska concluded.

The full video of the webinar. Tai Ji Men: Affirming the Core Value of Tolerance.

Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, introduced the second session. He also noted the role Dr. Hong played at the United Nations and elsewhere in affirming a global model of tolerance rooted in conscience. Fautré also observed that there are different forms of intolerance, and some of the worst of them affected Tai Ji Men. Fautré then introduced a video about the musical “Back to the Origin” presented in October in California by Tai Ji Men and the reactions to it by enthusiastic audiences.

Attendees praised the “Back to the Origin” musical.
Attendees praised the “Back to the Origin” musical.

Fautré presented the testimonies of five dizi. Peggy Hsieh, a researcher, reported how she went from having her school career disturbed by health issues to solving her problems by practicing Qigong, becoming a Tai Ji Men dizi, and eventually participating in hundreds of martial arts and cultural performances with Dr. Hong throughout the world. Hsieh returned to the notion of “paradox” discussed by Karolina Kotkowska. The contribution of Tai Ji Men to promote tolerance internationally is monumental, she said. At the same time, paradoxically, they are not tolerated and are persecuted in Taiwan, which also reveals a broader and systemic problem of tax injustice there.

Peggy Hsieh speaks.
Peggy Hsieh speaks.

Soong Yu-Hsuan, a project assistant, also reported that she visited several countries with Dr. Hong. She offered a useful summary of the Tai Ji Men case. She emphasized the negative role of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, the man who started the case, slandered Tai Ji Men through the media, and did everything possible to persecute both Shifu and dizi. She also noted both the multiple violations of law in the case and the victory Tai Ji Men achieved at the Supreme Court, which unfortunately did not stop the tax harassment. Soong remembered her visit to Auschwitz, a living testimony to the evil of intolerance, and called upon the Taiwanese government to uphold a spirit of tolerance and prove its commitment to freedom and democracy.

Soong Yu-Hsuan’s testimony.
Soong Yu-Hsuan’s testimony.

Chou Zi-Ting, a graduate student and a dizi since he finished elementary school, has also participated in performances and cultural trips with Dr. Hong throughout the world. Chou underlined the connection between conscience and tolerance. He identified Dr. Hong’s unique contribution to promoting a more tolerant world in his teaching that there will never be peace, justice, and tolerance without a return to the conscience as the moral compass guiding all our actions. These teachings, he said, should be applied to both the great problems of the humanity and the small events in our personal lives. Chou gave the example of software-related research, the field he is engaged in, where it is important that students act with conscience and do not try to supply false information to have their papers published or selected for conferences. Chou did not find the same conscience-oriented behavior in the bureaucrats who persecuted Tai Ji Men. However, he expressed the hope that authorities in Taiwan may acknowledge their past mistakes and finally promote a comprehensive legal and tax reform.

Chou Zi-Ting at the webinar.
Chou Zi-Ting at the webinar.

Albert Ma, a computer engineer, joined Tai Ji Men more recently than other dizi. He was once confined to a wheelchair for a while because of spine problems, and reported dramatic improvements since he started practicing Qigong. He joined the recent California events of October 2023 as a photographer. He was a tiring but fruitful experience, as he told a woman he met in the airport while leaving California. She was very moved when she learned that there are so many volunteers working hard to promote world peace and tolerance. The International Day of Tolerance, Ma said, should be an international day of forgiveness. Tai Ji Men dizi are ready to forgive those who persecuted them, but Taiwanese authorities should in turn acknowledge and correct their mistakes, he concluded.

A view of the webinar during Albert Ma’s testimony.
A view of the webinar during Albert Ma’s testimony.

Jill Wang is a banking practitioner working in Hong Kong. She reported how her relatives in Taiwan were concerned by the news about the repression of pro-democracy protests there. While these created serious problems, she pointed out that to be credible when criticizing what happens in Hong Kong, Taiwanese authorities should put their own house in order. Not only their tax system has non-democratic flaws, as evidenced by the Tai Ji Men case, but peaceful protests may be also hit by repression. Wang mentioned the case of the mistreatment by the police of Ms. Huang, a woman peacefully protesting during a Tai Ji Men demonstration on September 19, 2020.

Jill Wang speaks.
Jill Wang speaks.

Marco Respinti, an Italian scholar and journalist who serves as director-in-charge of “Bitter Winter,” offered the conclusions of the webinar, by reflecting on the meaning of “tolerance,” its roots in the ideas of 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, and its promotion by the United Nations, which did not always obtain satisfactory results. Respinti suggested that Dr. Hong offers a best foundation for tolerance, based on conscience and respect, than the one that is currently more commonly advanced by politicians. The global promotion of Tai Ji Men’s view of tolerance would be highly beneficial to our suffering world, Respinti said. But the pre-condition for this promotion to succeed is that Tai Ji Men themselves benefits of the full tolerance of the authorities in Taiwan.

A distinguished attendee praises the “Cultural Gems” show in the final video introduced by Marco Respinti.
A distinguished attendee praises the “Cultural Gems” show in the final video introduced by Marco Respinti.

The event concluded with a video on the “Cultural Gems” show: another beautiful performance Tai Ji Men dizi offered to audiences in California in October and another call for world peace and love.