By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers 

An article already published in Human Rights Without Frontiers on November 2nd, 2020.

HRWF (02.11.2020) – In late August 2020, Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau (NTB) arbitrarily seized and auctioned properties that belonged to Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder and spiritual leader of the Tai Ji Men, an organisation of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation. This auction was only another episode of a long saga of persecution, originating from the wrongful prosecution of Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou, who abused his power, violated the law, made false accusations, and transferred the case to the National Taxation Bureau, which then issued illegal tax bills to Tai Ji Men. The government has persecuted this peaceful and law-abiding organization for over two decades. Back in 1997, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou had kept Dr Hong Tao-tze in pre-trial detention for 117 days, and he had been obliged to release him due to lack of evidence for alleged fraud and tax evasion. Over the years, even though the courts have ruled in favor of Tai Ji Men many times, the illegal tax bills still remain, infringing on the freedom and property rights of Tai Ji Men’s shifu (master) and dizi (disciples).

Who is Dr Hong Tao-tze?

Dr Hong Tao-tze was born in 1944. In 1966, he founded the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Taiwan to pass on Qigong, martial arts, and the ‘heart kung fu.’ Following the tradition of menpai (similar to school) in ancient Chinese culture, where martial arts and wisdom are passed down from the shifu to his dizi, Dr. Hong has led his dizi to  promote the Tai Ji Men culture, cultivate their hearts and qi (energy), help themselves and others, and learn life philosophy and wisdom. To date, he has established 13 academies in Taiwan. In 2000, he created two academies in the United States.

In his academies, Tai Ji Men disciples practice Qigong, which includes body movements and mental concentration to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health. Dance, music, drumming, and flags are integrated into the studies, as well traditional Chinese culture and international advocacy for world peace and love. The Academy carries forward a culture in which medicine, philosophy, literature, education, arts and other disciplines are merged into a holistic approach to the martial arts.

Dr Hong Tao-tze, who is known as ‘Shifu’ in Tai Ji Men, is viewed by his disciples as a father figure and teacher at the same time. The organisation places great value on moral principles that aspiring disciples must abide by before being fully recognized as such.

Arrest and detention of Tai Ji Men leader in 1996

In 1996, there were anti-religious crackdowns in Taiwan prompted by the country’s first direct presidential election in March. During these crackdowns, the Tai Ji Men movement was one of those being targeted.[1]

On 19 December 1996, Dr Hong was arrested along with his wife and a few of his disciples. There were no formal criminal charges against them at the time of arrest.

Dr Hong was then held in pre-trial detention under inhumane conditions for the next 117 days as Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou led an investigation that included raids without search warrants and baseless accusations.

Since 23 December, the authorities started to freeze all financial assets of the Tai Ji Men’s master and his wife, including the assets they accumulated through trade and personal investment. This greatly impacted their ability to sustain the cost of rent, utility bills and other miscellaneous expenditures for the Tai Ji Men academies throughout the country. Despite this economic hardship, none of these facilities had to shut down and they were able to continue their regular activities with the collective help of the disciples.

Inhumane pre-trial detention conditions

While Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou was conducting investigations, Dr Hong was detained for close to four months. During that time, Dr Hong was transferred to different detention centres and placed in cells with violent criminals, serious drug addicts and pre-arranged criminals, which was to provoke fear in the mind of Dr Hong and to have some of these criminals frame him.

This was an intentional strategy, as Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou would then ask Dr Hong’s cellmates to testify against him. These testimonies often consisted of slander against Tai Ji Men and its leader.

Over the course of the 117-day pre-trial detention before the indictment was published, he was only interrogated by Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou three times for a total of 29 minutes. He was asked 13 questions in all. During the interrogation, the prosecutor was very rude and would throw files, pound on tables, rant loudly, and intimidate and coerce Dr Hong, who was even rejected when he asked to have documentary evidence favourable to him submitted to the prosecutor to help clarify the case.

Additionally, during his detention, Dr Hong wrote over ten detailed statements, which totaled tens of thousands of words and should have been sent to the court for review, but the most important documents among them–three pleas requesting investigation evidence from the prosecutor–were concealed by the prosecutor and never submitted to the court. As a result, Dr Hong continued to be detained even after he was transferred to the court, and the judge did not agree to release him on bail until Dr Hong’s lawyer Lee Chao-Hsiung urgently provided those three statements and relevant evidence. Throughout this entire process, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou did not notify Lawyer Lee of the charges against Dr Hong, which made lawyer Lee unable to exercise his right as the defense attorney.

Furthermore, the living conditions that Dr Hong endured during detention led to a deterioration in his health. He was held in damp, cold cells. The brand new quilt sent by his disciple was replaced by an old and dirty one, which was suspected of being manipulated in such a way that it made Dr Hong’s whole body so itchy that he would scratch and break his skin and could hardly fall asleep. Eventually his feet were so swollen and painful that he could hardly walk. There were concerns his feet would need to be amputated due to the damage done. During the second court hearing, the judge noticed his swollen feet and knees and asked him to sit through the hearing, and he was released on bail right after the court hearing finished.

Media lynching campaign

During the investigation, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou continued fuelling negative media reports about the Tai Ji Men movement, violating the principle that a prosecutorial investigation should be kept confidential. This impacted the general public’s perception of this group before the court trial began. The intention was to disintegrate the organization and create devastating consequences.

During the four months of this investigation, there were over 400 sensational newspaper articles and over 70 stories by more than 12 TV stations reporting on the case using information from Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou. This not only led to a one-sided account of the story, but also ostracised Tai Ji Men disciples from their communities and, in some cases, broke up families.

One example is when a city councillor appeared on the ‘Big Scandal’, a TV programme, and spread false information about the memorial flag that Dr Hong gave to his disciples. Although the flag was given for free, it was said that ‘around NT$10,000 to NT$30,000[2] was charged’ per flag. Additionally, caps were made by and for disciples themselves and they were free of charge; however, it was said that ‘NT $50,000’ was charged per cap. Outrageous claims such as these strengthened Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou’s accusations of fraudulent activity by the Tai Ji Men.

However, despite Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou’s best efforts, it became apparent that there was not enough evidence to support these allegations, and so he switched tactics but would still ‘shoot arrows first and then draw targets.’ In the absence of evidence, he would release information through the media, regardless of whether it was true, to let the media exaggerate the case and completely smear Tai Ji Men.

On 15 April 1997, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou accused Dr Hong of ‘raising goblins’, which in Chinese folklore means evoking a spirit who would then serve you and perform evil deeds. However, this tradition is mostly seen in movies or novels.

The prosecutor brought the charges on April 15, 1997 and released the indictment on April 16. The claim of ‘raising goblins’ in the indictment was strongly criticized by the media, the public and the legal community, questioning him how to prove the act of ‘raising goblins’? Therefore, on the morning of April 17, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou led investigators to conduct a search with the media in tow looking for evidence of raising goblins at the Tai Ji Men’s facilities in Taan, Nankang, Shulin and Kaohsiung. At the end of their efforts, they only found a peach wood sword to claim as evidence that Dr Hong had been raising goblins. However, it was only a gift given to him by his disciple and had nothing to do with the case.

On the afternoon of April 17, the prosecutor asked Dr Hong for the first time, ‘Did you raise goblins?’ Dr Hong denied the accusation of raising goblins. Even though the prosecutor violated due process of law when he brought the charges first and searched for evidence later, Dr Hong was still sent to the Taipei District Court on 18 April as the trial began. On that day, Tai Ji Men’s disciples gathered to support Dr Hong, holding banners that read: ‘Love to Our Master and His Wife and No Goblins, Only Love’.

Finally, on 26 May of the same year, bail was granted by the court. Surrounded by a swamp of reporters in a hallway of the Taipei District Court, Dr Hong stated: ‘I don’t know how to raise goblins. I do not conduct any fraud or evade taxes. Everything I do is lawful. As long as my disciples wish to learn, I will keep teaching.’

[1]For more information about the Tai Ji Men and the 1996 anti-religious crackdown, see:

[2] 1,000 New Taiwan dollars = about 29 EUR or 34 USD

Sources: “Reputation of the Master and His Disciples Ruined by the Accusation of Raising Goblins” by lawyer Kunming Chen, in “Revelation. 20 Years of Oppression and Injustice. A History of Human Rights Struggles,” by Min-Yuan Tan, Ping-Fan Ding and Ching-Bai Huang. Grand Justice Publishing Ltd.

Contacts with Tai Ji men in Taiwan.