On the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, scholars and activists celebrated Tai Ji Men’s contribution to promoting human rights and discussed the Tai Ji Men case.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 19th, 2023.
December 10, 2023, was both the United Nations Human Rights Day and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. It was a fit opportunity for one of the bi-monthly seminars on the Tai Ji Men case co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Stefania Cerruti, External Relations Manager of MEDIS, the Major Emergencies and Disasters International School, introduced the webinar and chaired its first session. She explained that in the first decade of the 20th century, the United Nations identified a “human rights gap” in relief after natural disasters. This led to the publication in 2006 of the “Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters” by the U.N. Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
Cerruti noted that among the rights to be protected even in the extreme situations created by natural disasters, the Guidelines mentioned freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) more than thirty times. It was a clear indication, she said, that FoRB can never be “suspended” by invoking superior state interests. However, in the Tai Ji Men case, it looked like FoRB was regarded as less important than the petty interests of certain bureaucrats and state agencies. This created a human-made disaster, not yet solved, which was not less dangerous than some natural disasters, Cerruti concluded.
Cerruti presented two United Nations videos about Human Rights Day. In the first, U.N. General Secretary António Guterres emphasized the dangers threatening human rights in the world today and expressed the hope that the 75th anniversary would call all member states to their respect. The second video told the story of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, and how it emerged from the horrors of World War II, inspiring several successful civil movements.
Cerruti then introduced the speakers of the first session. The first was Hans Noot, President of the Dutch Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief, who emphasized the connection between the Universal Declaration adopted in 1948 and the U.N. Two Covenants on human rights drafted in 1950. He noted that the system established by the United Nation through these documents led to important victories for human rights in different fields. It also spread a culture of human rights among the younger generations. On the other hand, the veto power systematically exerted by the states sitting in the Security Council and the lack of enforcement tools makes this system admirable but often ineffective.
Noot also noted that Taiwan did sign the Two Covenants in 1967 but then ceased being a member state of the U.N. for well-known political reasons. In 2009, it incorporated unilaterally the Two Covenants into its domestic law. However, Noot concluded, 24 million Taiwanese cannot benefit of the international remedies against human rights violations granted to citizens of the U.N. member states. The fact that the Tai Ji Men case remains unsolved proves that even incorporating the Two Covenants into Taiwan’s domestic laws dis not solve all its human rights problems, Noot concluded.
The second speaker was Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as Managing Director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter.” He noted that today both “human” and “rights” are contested concepts in the expression “human rights.” Some claim that the rights of the Universal Declaration are not “human,” which would imply that they are universal, but are only “Westerners” or “Americans,” and cannot be applied to different cultures in Russia, China, or the Arab countries. Of course, Introvigne commented, this is an easy excuse for totalitarian regimes that prefer to ignore human rights.
Others, Introvigne explained, insist that there are no “human” rights, but only “rights of the living beings,” as there is no reason, they say, to regard humans more worthy of having their rights protected than animals. While animal rights are now generally recognized, and have a long history in Eastern religions, the question is more complicated than it may seem at first sight, Introvigne said. We all sympathize with the rights of hippos and leopards not to be killed by hunter for trophies, but few are against the programs aimed at eradicating the deadliest varieties of mosquitoes that kill 750,000 human beings every year by carrying dengue, zika, or malaria—although some extreme animal rights advocates are against anti-mosquito campaign as well.
Introvigne concluded that yes, animals have rights, but no, they do not have the same rights as humans. The root of this distinction is that only humans have a conscience and can reflect on good and evil, including ecological evil, which gives them both rights and responsibilities. This is a key teaching of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, Introvigne said, and the best foundation for human rights. Since human rights have enemies, this is also the reason why Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men are persecuted and harassed.
Cerruti then passed the podium to Willy Fautré, co-founder and Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, who introduced the second session. Fautré noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights influenced all subsequent U.N. key documents and also the foundational documents of the European Union. However, he said, human rights should never be taken for granted. That many applaud them does not mean that they are put into practice. Fautré mentioned that December marks two anniversaries, one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on December 10, 1948, and another of the unjust beginning of the Tai Ji Men case on December 19, 1996. That the Tai Ji Men case is not solved after almost 27 years is a living testimony that human rights are hailed in theory but not respected in practice, Fautré said.
Part of the sad story of the persecution of Tai Ji Men was what happened on August 21, 2020. On that date, Tai Ji Men’s sacred land intended for a self-cultivation center and educational activities was confiscated by the government on the basis of an unjust and illegal tax bill. A video presented the story of the Tai Ji Men case, leading to the fateful date in 2020, and called for the immediate return of the unjustly confiscated land to its legitimate owners.
Fautré then introduced the testimonies of five Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples). Wu Chi-Chung, the Vice President of a company manufacturing medical equipment, mentioned the paradox of Taiwan’s authoritarian rule during the Martial Law period. In these years, the bases for Taiwan’s subsequent economic development were created, but at the expenses of human rights. Even after Martial Law was lifted in 1987, democratic political elections were celebrated, and the first President was elected by the people in 1996, human rights continued to be violated. In the very year 1996, a politically motivated crackdown hit religious and spiritual movements accused of not having supported the presidential candidate of the ruling party who eventually won the elections. The crackdown also affected Tai Ji Men and started the Tai Ji Men case, which has not been solved after 27 years, demonstrating—Wu concluded—that substantial human rights problems still exist in Taiwan.
Emma Chen, a dentist, returned to the 1996 crackdown on Tai Ji Men and its aftermath. She mentioned that, after the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong, was unjustly detained, Emma’s brother and sister made a brand-new quilt and brought it to him, hoping to keep him warm in the cold and humid detention center. But it was replaced by a stinky and itchy old quilt. Dr. Hong’s wife, who had taken the initiative to visit the Taipei City Investigation Office to clarify the case, was also arrested and mistreated, notwithstanding her ill health. These, Chen said, were just some examples of how the Tai Ji Men case since its beginning included continuous abuses, violations of human rights, and illegal acts by the authorities. Yet, Tai Ji Men remained committed to spreading throughout the world a message of peace and love, and never abandoned the hope that justice will one day be restored to it.
Patrick Yang, the director of an IP company, recalled his participation in the August 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago and in a forum there on the Tai Ji Men case. He quoted the speeches of Rosita Šorytė, who presented Dr. Hong as the brilliant and legitimate heir of a long Taoist tradition of self-cultivation and qigong, and of Massimo Introvigne, who emphasized Dr. Hong’s key role in promoting throughout the world the primacy of conscience. Yang reported that he himself experienced the many benefits of the Tai Ji Men teachings and practice in his personal and professional life. He visited more than twenty countries with Dr. Hong spreading a global message of love, peace and conscience. He finds “inevitable,” Yang concluded, that promoting conscience also involves defending human rights and speaking up against their violations, including in the long-lasting Tai Ji Men case, since human rights and conscience are closely connected.
Luna Ho, an elementary school teacher, connected the lack of respect of human rights of individuals and nations with the wars plaguing the world today. The same mechanism, she said, causes corruption and domestic cases of injustice, such as the fabricated Tai Ji Men case in Taiwan. Indeed, Ho added, corruption and injustice are connected. For example, the immoral system of bonuses quickly granted to tax bureaucrats on the bills they enforce, rightly or wrongly, is a principal cause of tax injustice and of the Tai Ji Men case. Ho concluded by reporting that at a parade in Chicago she recently played the role of He Xiangu, one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese mythology, who guides devotees to cultivate their best nature and mind. Although she was just impersonating a character, she kept sending good thoughts around her and felt that what He Xiangu represents is the very core of the teachings of Tai Ji Men and their efforts for peace and love.
Lina Chang, an elementary school substitute teacher, focused on a specific human rights violation during the Tai Ji Men case. Unjust tax bills were issued claiming that what Tai Ji Men dizi gave to their Shifu were not gifts, customary in the master-disciple relationship in Eastern Asian martial arts and self-cultivation groups, but tuition fees of a “cram school.” Chang listed several decisions and authorities that concluded unequivocally that Tai Ji Men was never a cram school and what was given to their Shifu in the so-called “red envelopes” should be considered as gifts, not tuition fees. Notwithstanding, the false argument of the cram school kept being repeated, with dire consequences. This was just one among several examples of serious human rights violations against Tai Ji Men’s Shifu and dizi, Chang concluded.
Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist and scholar who serves as director-in-charge of “Bitter Winter,” offered the conclusions of the webinar. He noted that human rights are continuously invoked and mentioned precisely when, and perhaps because, they are violated and ignored in many parts of the world. Notwithstanding its obvious merits, he said that some problems come from the very language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. To make it acceptable to a large number of member states of the United Nations, some of them non-democratic, the Declaration did not specifically indicate a philosophical and ethical foundation of human rights, something that was later used to justify their violations. The foundation of human rights is in fact human nature, Respinti said, which implies that humans have a conscience as their moral compass. This is the key teaching of Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, for which they deserve both our gratitude, Respinti concluded, and our support when their own human rights are denied.
The event concluded with the musical video “Human Rights for World Citizens,” where the universality of human rights and their spiritual and moral foundation in conscience was proclaimed through a beautiful song, illustrated with images of Tai Ji Men’s world campaigns for peace, love, conscience, and justice.