Persecuting Tai Ji Men was an attempt to destroy a unique educational experience, said scholars and human rights activists from various countries.

by Alessandro Amicarelli

An article already published in Bitter Winter on January 27th, 2022.

On January 24, 2022, the United Nations International Education Day, CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers, organized one of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case. The theme “The Power of Education and the Tai Ji Men Case” was introduced by Peter Zoehrer, an Austrian journalist who serves as executive director of FOREF (Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe). He emphasized that education is a human right, and parents should be free to choose the education for their children, on the basis also of their religious and spiritual orientations. Freedom of education is violated both in developing countries, Zoehrer said, where poverty prevents the regular functioning of educational institutions, and in our Western societies where technical education prevails and a “education of the heart” is neglected. He praised Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, for promoting throughout the world such “education of the heart.”

Zoehrer introduced two videos, one by UNESCO on the International Day of Education, and one by Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, who also spoke in his capacity as Vice President of the United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO Association of World Citizens. Dr. Hong insisted on the importance of conscience, and proposed a conscience-based education as a solution to the global educational crisis that all countries are witnessing and the United Nations agencies are acknowledging.

The full video of the webinar.

Zoehrer then presented three international speakers. Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, told the story of his own education and how he is grateful to some very good teachers who nurtured his passion for human rights. He then became a teacher himself. At that time he was an atheist, and was inspired by one of his students, a Christian, to reconsider his negative attitude towards religion. His early experience, Fautré said, taught him the importance of freedom of education, which is one among several human rights violated in the Tai Ji Men case.

Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as managing director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, presented a reflection on the famous words “As we were saying yesterday…,” with which Spanish professor Luis de León started a university lesson in 1577 after he had to suspend his courses during the five years when he was unjustly detained. By these words, he meant that morally the time he spent in jail did not exist, and persecution cannot prevail over the power of education.

Introvigne commented that Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men might have rightfully said the same words when he came back to teach his dizi (disciples) after having been unjustly kept in a detention center for 159 days by the notorious Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen. Prosecutor Hou and those who persecuted Tai Ji Men, Introvigne said, were politically motivated, but they also wanted to destroy a unique experience of independent education.

They did not succeed, Introvigne said, and Dr. Hong continues to successfully teach about conscience, peace, love, and self-cultivation to this very day. However, he and Tai Ji Men continued to be harassed in Taiwan in several ways, particularly through ill-founded tax bills.

Pier Luigi Capra, the Regional Secretary for Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, in Italy, of the Italian Military Union, Military Police (Carabinieri), explained that his organization does not deal only with matters of specific interest to the Army but also promotes intercultural and interreligious dialogue. He presented the principle of participation, the cornerstone of democratic societies, which allows citizens to freely participate in different ways in the political and social life of their countries.

A view of the webinar.
A view of the webinar.

Capra praised Dr. Hong’s activities in the Association of World Citizens, whose concept of “good citizenship” embodies the values of participation. He also found gross injustice at work in the Tai Ji Men case. He answered the possible objection that, as “good citizens,” Tai Ji Men dizi and their supporters should respect the decisions of legal and administrative authorities by explaining that in fact it is part of the mission of “good citizens” to protest peacefully when authorities make mistakes, and ask that they are rectified

Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, praised Tai Ji Men for providing what is missing in contemporary education, i.e., educating to conscience and “educating for virtue,” to borrow the title of a well-known collective book published in 1998 by the National Humanities Institute in Washington D.C. “Educating for virtue,” Respinti added, also means educating to liberty and educating to truth—something which is appropriate to remember in a webinar devoted to presenting the truth about the Tai Ji Men case after so many lies and fabricated accusations were spread.

Respinti then introduced the video “Ancient Egyptian Dynasties,” which explains that Egypt flourished in the antiquity because of its effective and substantially fair tax system. It included monitoring provisions to keep the corruption of tax collectors in check. With the decadence of the Egyptian empire, however, the Pharaoh’s government was no longer able to control the tax collectors, which led to an economic and administrative crisis, and finally to the conquest of Egypt by the Romans.

Presenting the video “Ancient Egyptian Dynasties.”
Presenting the video “Ancient Egyptian Dynasties.”

Respinti then introduced two witnesses from Taiwan and four dizi. Chen Kun-He, a member of the Tainan City Council, praised Tai Ji Men for their resilience in protesting what are obviously unjust taxes, but observed that many individual citizens, who are also victims of the wrongdoings of the National Taxation Bureau, lack time and resources to effectively resist. Chen also noted that the judiciary largely relies on the interpretation of tax laws by the National Taxation Bureau, and in less than 2% of the cases do citizens win court cases against the government. “The most important target for reform today is the judiciary,” Chen said.

Li Wen-Zheng, a former member of Tainan City Council, insisted on tax reform. He explained that the Taiwan government every year sets a tax revenue target, and bureaucrats are under pressure to achieve this goal through tax bills, be they right or wrong. Li called the Tai Ji Men case a “tax tragedy,” reminded the audience that other religious and spiritual movements were also the target of administrative persecution, and expressed gratitude to Tai Ji Men for their advocacy of tax reform, which benefits all Taiwanese.

Kenny Cheng, product stewardship director in a chemical company and the first of the four Tai Ji Men dizi who took the floor, reviewed the UNESCO Concept Note for the International Day of Education 2022. The document claims that the global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis.

UNESCO calls the attention on areas of the planet where children and teenagers are denied access to education. However, it also notes that education is based on a “social contract” where citizens trust their governments. This relationship, Cheng said, has been compromised in Taiwan when governments failed to promote the legal and tax reforms that would have been necessary to overcome the authoritarian legacy of the Martial Law period. The Tai Ji Men case, Cheng noted, is evidence that freedom of religion or belief and tax justice are connected, are both needed for democracy, and are not fully guaranteed in Taiwan.

Juselia Lin at the webinar.
Juselia Lin at the webinar.

Juselia Lin, former advisor to a Taiwan economic think tank, reported that as an economist who also advised the government she documented the successes of Taiwanese economy but also warned that they are heavily influenced by an international context that can change very rapidly. When she joined Tai Ji Men, she was taught by Dr. Hong that economic development is also connected with education and culture. She accompanied Dr. Hong to the International Conferences of Chief Justices of the World held in Lucknow, India, in 2018 and 2019, and observed how his ideas are appreciated by many world leaders.

Tax justice, Lin said, is also needed for economic development. In 2018, she invited Taiwanese village chiefs to Taipei to attend a legal tax forum and sign legal and tax reform proposals. She noted that village chiefs in Taiwan have firsthand experience of the injustices of the tax system and the arbitrary actions of the National Taxation Bureau, which are demonstrated by the Tai Ji Men case. Lin, who also serves as Vice President of the National High School Parents Association in Taiwan, expressed her firm belief that education and conscience are the forces that may lead to tax and legal reform in Taiwan and to the solution of the Tai Ji Men case.

Daniel Lee, a patent specialist and the CEO of an international intellectual property firm, has been a Tai Ji Men dizi since 2006. He reported that by using the computer for long hours every day, he had developed shoulders and neck problems, which greatly improved when he started practicing qigong with Tai Ji Men. However, Lee said, the greatest benefit of his practice was being taught self-cultivation and meditation that helped him overcoming the obstacles and creating his own firm, which now includes more than sixty intellectual property specialists. He also learned from Dr. Hong that he should act as a global citizen to improve the world we all live in, and despite being a busy professional he devoted his holidays to be part of Tai Ji Men’s world tours for peace and love.

Daniel Lee at the webinar.
Daniel Lee at the webinar.

Lee expressed his astonishment in seeing that, notwithstanding the widespread praise the good work by Tai Ji Men received, Taiwan’s tax authorities continued their persecution. At the same time, Lee observed that participating in public protests and interacting with international scholars who support Tai Ji Men is also a form of education and an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth.

Kate Chen, executive assistant in a Taiwanese company, shared several stories about her experience as a dizi. She told how, as a young girl in school, she was teased by classmates after media manipulated by Prosecutor Hou falsely claimed that Tai Ji Men was engaged in raising goblins. This became an opportunity for her to educate other pupils by showing them that media do not always tell the truth. She said how excited she was when Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou praised Tai Ji Men at the flag presenting ceremony to the dizi who would perform at the Olympic Games in Sydney.

Chen also reported the long days, in hot sun or heavy rain, when she participated in the protests about the Tai Ji Men case. And she explained how in 2021 she was part of a team that went to different county and city councils to organize forums advocating for human rights and tax reform. There, she learned that many Taiwanese citizens had suffered injustice at the hands of the National Taxation Bureau. The International Day of Education, she concluded, should be an opportunity for Taiwan’s government to provide to its citizens a conscience-based education, and put it in practice by reforming the tax system and solving the Tai Ji Men case.

Daniela Bovolenta, from Bitter Winter, offered the conclusions of the webinar, noting that it discussed four main connections between education and the Tai Ji Men case. First, Tai Ji Men offers to its dizi a unique educational experience. Second, authoritarian governments and bureaucrats typically hate independent education and try to destroy it, as it happened in the Tai Ji Men case. Third, suffering persecution is sad and difficult but is also an opportunity for spiritual growth and may be a form of education, as it was for the Tai Ji Men dizi guided by Dr. Hong. Fourth, protesting and liaising with international scholars has been another educational experience for the Tai Ji Men dizi, who both self-educated themselves and educated to the values of justice and conscience those who witnessed their protests.

Bovolenta then introduced the videos “Spreading Love to 101 Nations,” which presents the international campaigns that took the dizi to all continents spreading education to peace and love, and “The Five Wonderful Treasures,” where children offer to the audience in preparation of the Chinese New Year the five gifts of physical and mental health, wealth, wisdom, happiness and joy. The broadcasting continued with the video “President Tsai, Do You Tolerate Government Officials Who Violate the Law?” which offered an in-depth presentation of both the spiritual roots of Tai Ji Men and its activities, and of the Tai Ji Men case.