The main corrupt bureaucrats that have been persecuting Tai Ji Men for more than a quarter of a century in Taiwan are male. Perhaps it is not a coincidence.

by Marco Respinti*

*Conclusions of the webinar “Violence, Women, and Freedom of Religion or Belief: Honoring the Women of Tai Ji Men,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on November 25, 2023, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 1st, 2023.

Tai Ji Men women protest in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men women protest in Taiwan.

It could seem naïve to put “violence,” “women,” and “freedom of religion or belief” in the same sentence, even more to make that the title and subject of a webinar where scholarly papers are presented alongside first-hand testimonies from disciples of a Taiwanese spiritual movement, Tai Ji Men. It could be, but in our case it is not. In fact, those three elements, “violence,” “women,” and “freedom of religion or belief,” combine variously in ways I would like to draw attention to.

First, “violence” and “women” combine to the effect of making us reflect on the fact that women often suffer violence from men—and not because men are stronger. To reduce the topic to this platitude is to repeat a falsity. Weakness and strength are not a matter of gender, but of individuals. The point is rather social power. Socially, women often suffer more violence than men, because in most cases men enjoy superior social power and they impose it on all, starting from women. This practical superiority of men may have different origins. It may by an imposition of men on women as well as a self-inflicted imposition by the women themselves. This happens when women persuade themselves of the false idea that nature endowed them with a secondary role that leads to submission. On the other side, a symmetrical mistake happens when women think to be by definition superior to men. The abuse lies in evaluating all in terms of superiority and inferiority, whereas it is the difference in complementary roles that enriches relationships.

Second, “violence” and “freedom of religion or belief” combine in many ways. I present two. One is when religions and beliefs offer a distorted view of the genuine religious sentiment, culminating in the justification and even advocacy of violence. The other is when freedom of religion or belief is blatantly denied through the use of violence.

Third, women” and “freedom of religion and belief” similarly combine in several different ways. I underline two. One points at women as holders of a key role in preserving the fundamental right of all human beings to religious liberty. The part played by women in family and society is undisputable when the transmission of values, norms, and even sensitivities is concerned. With their natural delicacy and attention, they nourish and embellish what is worth nourishment and embellishment in life, especially the ultimate human questions we address when we deal with religions, spiritual beliefs, and creeds. Of course, not only do women play a key role in the crucial struggle for religious liberty, but it is also safe to say that if the role of women at that is poor, then the overall result is poor as well.

Iran, a defiant young woman makes the victory sign in front of a police car. From X.
Iran, a defiant young woman makes the victory sign in front of a police car. From X.

I promised another consideration as to the combination between “women” and “freedom of religion or belief.” Here it is. Denials of liberty regarding religion, belief, or creed always ends up, and often starts, with the repression of women. A classical case is what we see in Iran today. In that country, a violent interpretation of Islam, which is challenged and criticized by many other Muslims, discriminates women and promotes violence against them just because they are women. They may be women who wish to be equal to men in their education as university students, or women accused of not exactly fulfilling all Islamic legal prescriptions. It doesn’t make any difference: secular or religious, those females are considered guilty from the beginning, just for not being males and wanting to be respected as males are. On the other hand, the atheistic war against religion we see in the People’s Republic of China preferably attacks Uyghur and Tibetan women, since women are the future of these peoples and their religious customs.

No, it is not naïve at all to put “violence,” “women,” and “freedom of religion and belief” together on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—because women do indeed make the difference.

I am in constant admiration of the women of Tai Ji Men. They take care—nourish is the world I used before—of the harmonious environment, which is indispensable to enjoy peace and serenity, and grow in spirit. They care for details, and they care for order, from cultural performances to everyday logistic aspects, for example when delegations and groups visit their homeland in Taiwan or their academies and events abroad. I am not an expert on the Tai Ji Men movement. I am an observer, sometimes a guest, always a friend. I dare to say that Tai Ji Men would be different, if it were not for its women. The look, the flavor, and more importantly the tone of the testimony that the Tai Ji Men movement and its operations give to the world would be different and less beautiful without the women—especially Tai Ji Men’s testimony for universal peace.

Double is then the violence suffered by the women of Tai Ji Men, in 27 years of persecution based on lies and fabricated evidence. If it is criminal to wage violence against the innocent members of a spiritual school, such as Tai Ji Men is, and such as Tai Ji Men dizi suffered for more than a quarter of a century, it is even more criminal to make women specifically pay a supplementary price. It is criminal but from the point of view of the persecutors it is also strategic.

Tai Ji Men protest in Taipei.
Tai Ji Men protest in Taipei.

In fact, women in Tai Ji Men are the key to a humane environment—just as women at large are that key in the world at large. Since they are, preventing the women of Tai Ji Men from playing their natural and vocational role is tantamount to perpetuating the lie of a non-existent superiority of males over females, cutting the tree of a better world right at its roots. I may be wrong, but, as far as I understand, most of the corrupt bureaucrats that have been persecuting Tai Ji Men for so long in Taiwan are male.

Not only today, but every single day it is then the right day to honor the women of Tai Ji Men for their resistance, resilience, and strength. For their efforts in offering a serious alternative to violence and for their endurance in giving constant and irreducible testimony to the only possible good world. It is the world where all are free to address the most important questions in life that bind us together and we call religions, beliefs, and creeds—against both anti-religious violence and violent distortions of the genuine religious sentiment. With the women of Tai Ji Men and through them, we honor all women.