Collateral damage in the ill-founded harassment of Tai Ji Men: a beautiful and precious property lies in ruins.
by Massimo Introvigne
An article already published in Bitter Winter on January 22nd, 2024.
On January 7, 2024, Eileen Barker, O.B.E., professor emerita of Sociology at the London School of Economics and the founder of the academic field studying new religious movements, and the undersigned, joined Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men and several of his dizi (disciples) in a visit to the Swiss Mountain Villa.
The Villa is in Xizhi, Taiwan, and lies outside of Taipei, near the idyllic Yangmingshan National Park. In 1995, Dr. Hong bought several properties in the Swiss Mountain Villa community, with the idea of developing them into a large self-cultivation and learning center for Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples), and facilities for hosting overseas dizi when they come to Taiwan.
In 1996, the politically motivated crackdown on Tai Ji Men started. Dr. Hong, his wife, and two dizi were arrested. Eventually, they were all found not guilty of the charges raised against them by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen, and even received national compensation for their previous unjust detention.
In 1997, Prosecutor Hou had frozen all of Dr. Hong’s and his wife’s assets, including the properties in the Swiss Mountain Villa community. In the same year, the National Taxation Bureau (NTB) issued tax bills to Dr. Hong, as a by-product of the criminal case, and imposed a restraint on disposition on Dr. Hong’s properties in the Villa community. In 2003, Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were declared not guilty in the first criminal decision. The properties were unfrozen, but were compelled to be used as a collateral in the tax case.
In 2007 Taiwan’s Supreme Court ended the criminal case against Dr. Hong, his wife, and the two Tai Ji Men dizi. Again, they were declared innocent of all charges, including the alleged tax evasion. However, the NTB did not return to Dr. Hong his property in the Swiss Mountain Villa Community.
In 2019, the National Enforcement Agency seized the Villa property as part of its attempt to enforce an ill-founded tax bill for 1992. Finally, in 2020, land regarded by Tai Ji Men as sacred and intended for a self-cultivation center in Miaoli was in turn seized, unsuccessfully auctioned off, and confiscated, after which the Swiss Mountain Villa properties were returned to Dr. Hong and the movement.
23 years, 5 months, and 7 days had elapsed since a restraint on disposition was imposed on the properties in the Villa community by Prosecutor Hou and the NTB in 1997. Paradoxically, while Dr. Hong’s property remained frozen and could not be disposed of, he still had to pay property taxes on it.
Re-entering the Swiss Mountain Villa after 23 years was heartbreaking for the Tai Ji Men dizi. The once majestic property had not been taken care of, and appeared destitute and dilapidated. In fact, it was almost in ruins. Careless rogue bureaucrats did not care how much damage they had caused to the property or the even greater intangible emotional damage they had created.
According to current regulations, you cannot reapply for a construction permit. It is impossible to demolish and rebuild the house. And if you want to renovate, it will cost more than to rebuild.
The beautiful property thus remain as a testament to bureaucratic stupidity and how a false prosecution turned into a vendetta against a spiritual movement. Although I had been there before (but not Eileen Barker), I was moved again by the inherent sadness of the story.
We admired the sword-shaped monument inaugurated there on December 19, 2023, on the anniversary of the beginning of the Tai Ji Men case with Prosecutor Hou’s raids of December 19, 1996, and planted small trees, a sign of hope for the future. Dr. Hong delivered powerful words, reminding us that hope and conscience in the end always prevail.
Eileen Barker and I also had a short exchange of comments with Dr. Hong and the dizi and watched videos on the story of the Villa. We condemned the unnecessary suffering inflicted on Tai Ji Men’s Shifu and dizi and called for justice.
We also learned of the unsatisfactory reply by Taiwanese authorities to letters and petitions recently sent by Tai Ji Men. But it is never too late to restore justice, and we expressed the hope that the new year 2024 may bring the long-awaited rectification of the Tai Ji Men case.