Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, offered a unique contribution to the international promotion of world peace, including through resistance to persecution.
by Pier-Luigi Zoccatelli*
*A paper presented at the webinar “There Is No Peace Without Justice: The Fight of Dr. Hong and the Tai Ji Men case,” organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on September 20, 2021, on the eve of the International Day of Peace.
An article already published in Bitter Winter on October 2nd, 2021.
The International Day of Peace that we will celebrate tomorrow, September 21, has a special meaning in 2021. In this same month, we remembered the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which occurred twenty years ago.
These attacks changed how the world looks at religion. Before, religion was largely perceived as a positive influence and a force for peace, except by a minority of militant atheists. The few groups that committed crimes were dismissed as marginal “cults.” Although most Muslims throughout the world disagreed with their theology, the terrorists of 9/11 did not come from a peripheral religion but from the most fundamentalist wing of one of the largest world faiths, Islam. Conversely, after 9/11 in several parts of the world there were instances of violence and discrimination against Muslims carried out by members of other religions. All of a sudden, religion did not appear as a resource for world peace, but as a problem.
Religious leaders and intellectuals, including the Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out that anti-religious ideologies such as Communism and Nazism had been much more lethal than religion. They also tried to distinguish mainline religion from its fundamentalist deviations. Yet, religion had become suspicious. Most religions and movements understood that they should do more to persuade the world that they were a resource for peace. Many multiplied initiatives of peace education and dialogue between religions and cultures.
New religious and spiritual movements were also involved. Indeed, some of them were among the most active and professional players in the field of religion-based peace education, and some had developed a substantial experience in this field before 9/11. Several spiritual groups who became very visible through their initiatives for peace were based in East Asia, where both regional political tensions and the memory of the destructions of the atomic bombings in Japan had given to the quest for peace a special urgency.
Some are suspicious of peace initiatives when they come from new spiritual movements, claiming they are just “fronts” for their proselytization. As Eileen Barker and other specialized scholars have observed, more often than not this criticism is both false and unfair. It is false, because those attending the peace initiatives organized by the new spiritual movements are often politicians, diplomats, and leaders of other religions, i.e., the kind of persons it is almost impossible to convert to a new faith. And it is unfair, because new religious and spiritual movements are criticized if they only focus on their spiritual practices and ignore social issues. On the other hand, when they confront social and peace questions, they are accused of being insincere and their initiatives are labeled as mere pretexts for proselytization or propaganda.
The Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy and its leader, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, are among the most well-known spiritual and self-cultivation groups internationally active in the promotion of world peace. In 2000, Dr. Hong started touring all continents with Tai Ji Men’s Bell of World Peace and Love, which prominent figures throughout the world were invited to ring.
On January 1, 2014, Tai Ji Men launched, together with others, the Movement for An Era of Conscience, to promote conscience and making people appreciate its importance being one of the goals of this initiative. This aim was eventually achieved in 2019, when the United Nations officially proclaimed April 5 as the International Day of Conscience.
Dr. Hong firmly believes that peace and conscience are connected, and that the relationship between the harmony in the heart, which is conscience, and the harmony in the world, which is peace, is bilateral. Conscience generates peace and love. At the same time, “love, peace, and human rights are wellsprings of kindness that activate our conscience.”
Spiritual self-cultivation and peace activities are not two separate spheres for the dizi (disciples) of Tai Ji Men. They are one and the same or, more exactly, peace activities are a form of self-cultivation. “The awakening of conscience unleashes wisdom,” says Dr. Hong, and, once awakened, “conscience nourishes wisdom.” This awakening, however, can only happen in an environment where love, peace and human rights prevail. They are both fruits of the conscience and nourishment for the conscience. Dizi have no other way to live their spiritual lives within Tai Ji Men than by including among their activities the promotion of love and peace through global initiatives.
Tai Ji Men welcomes dizi of all religions, but considers itself the heir of 6,000 years of esoteric Taoism. Again, this is not a claim the movement regards as separate from its peace activities. Harmony is a key principle of Chinese culture, and Dr. Hong insists that in fact, by “utilizing the philosophy of yin and yang,” a millennia-old Taoist spirituality may offer a valid recipe for world peace and, at the same time, legitimately represents the most venerable cultural tradition.
On the other hand, the appeal to conscience as a path to peace resonates across cultures and religions. One does not need to share or even know the esoteric Taoism of Tai Ji Men to accept its narrative about conscience and peace. As Dr. Hong proclaims, “Conscience transcends national boundaries. Stability is specially needed in chaotic times. Love is the greatest power. Peace is the source of happiness. Human rights are universal values. We associate love, peace, and human rights with conscience. Only by embracing genuine love will human rights be realized, and peace and harmony achieved.”
Based on their own experience in Taiwan, where taxes have been used as a discriminatory tool against Tai Ji Men, and their freedom of religion or belief (FORB) has been denied, dizi include both FORB and the right to tax justice among the human rights that should necessarily be affirmed to create and protect peace, and vigorously advocate for the rights of taxpayers and tax reform.
Again, the massive protests of Tai Ji Men against the injustices vested on them by Taiwan’s tax bureaucrats are not separated from their fight for peace. Without human rights, there can be a false peace only.
In 1999, Dr. Hong composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the song “Love of the World.” It was popularized by the BBC, which broadcasted it on New Year’s Eve 1999. The song refrain celebrates “Love of the world, a wish for peace. That is people’s dream That is people’s holy wish…”
In the International Day of Peace 2021, we will make a wish, a holy wish indeed, that peace through justice and human rights will be restored to Tai Ji Men, and to all those who have been discriminated or persecuted because of their spirituality or religion.