An intimate recollection of twenty-five years of hopes, disappointment, and “peaceful and rational” protests.

by Chuck Chen*

*A paper presented at the Webinar “Protest, Conscience, and Human Rights: International Perspectives on the Tai Ji Men Case,” April 6, 2021.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on May 13th, 2021.

Tai Ji Men protests in Taipei.
Tai Ji Men protests in Taipei.

I am a product manager in a technology company. Besides my work, I pay close attention to spiritual and human rights issues. I am convinced that when the world learns to respect beliefs, we humans can be humble, the society can be safe, and peace and sustainability can truly happen. I would like to share a special and meaningful lesson that my shifu, i.e., my spiritual master, has continuously taught me in the past 25 years.

My shifu is the Zhang-men-ren (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze. As all countries are trying their best to preserve their cultural heritage, Dr. Hong has always focused on carrying forward an excellent culture and improving global citizens’ physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. The Taiwanese government allocates more than 20 billion NTD to the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs annually. Taking 2020 as an example, the budgets of the two ministries exceeded 55.2 billion NTD. Under the leadership of Dr. Hong, Tai Ji Men has never accepted or requested donations. The shifu and the dizi (disciples) supported themselves to visit more than 100 countries and more than 300 cities, participating in over 3,000 local and international cultural performances and exchanges, and promoting citizen diplomacy. Last year, during the pandemic, we hosted more than 30 global virtual events, spreading the importance of a culture of conscience.

On a more personal note, what exactly has Dr. Hong taught me? In 1992, I became a dizi. When I was little, I used to go to the Tai Ji Men Qigong academy with my parents. When they would practice qigong, I would play around. My brothers and sisters would even take turns taking care of me. Since then, I have always known that Tai Ji Men is a good place to learn happiness, a positive attitude, physical training, and self-cultivation.

Therefore, I was utterly confused in 1996 when I heard the news that Dr. Hong was taken away and detained by the prosecutor’s office . How come I never saw the fraud, “raising goblins,”and tax evasion that the news accused him of? I later realized that prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen could not find any criminal evidence, so he used the media to falsely accuse Tai Ji Men, trying to create the impression that we were guilty before the trial even began. However, when Dr. Hong was freed from detention, he still smiled and told us to have faith and love the country.

After 10 years and 7 months, the Supreme Court, the third instance court, confirmed that Dr. Hong was innocent of all charges, and had not evaded any tax. The Control Yuan, a government branch in charge of supervising civil servants, said that prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen had committed eight violations of law in this case, and that the National Tax Bureau in turn had committed seven violations of law. The state admitted its wrongdoing and compensated Dr. Hong along with his wife and two dizi for their wrongful detention.

All of our brothers and sisters were thrilled on hearing the news. At that time, we thought that since (1) the tax case of Tai Ji Men was derived from the wrongful indictment, (2) the criminal division of the Supreme Court ruled that the shifu and his co-defendants were innocent of all charges and that there was no tax evasion, and (3) the NTB was also corrected by the Control Yuan, then (4) the false tax bills should follow the judgement and be revoked.

Another image of the Tai Ji Men protests.
Another image of the Tai Ji Men protests.

The result was not what we expected. Instead of revoking the illegal tax bills, the NTB continued to use the indictment to tax Dr. Hong, even after the court had declared it groundless. Theoretically, the indictment cannot be quoted as evidence for taxation, as it is only a statement of the prosecutor’s speculation. But the NTB not only quoted it, but even accepted the wrong information in it without conducting any investigation. One example is that, on the day when Prosecutor Hou searched Tai Ji Men, the total balance in relevant bank accounts was 610,000 NTD. Prosecutor Hou falsely claimed there was 3.1 billion NTD, and wrongfully accused Tai Ji Men of tax evasion. He also spread fake news and violated the principle that prosecutorial investigation should be kept confidential. This caused the media to report that Tai Ji Men  allegedly evaded taxes on 3.1 billion ND the following day. The prosecutor falsely escalated the amount to 3.2 billion NTD in the indictment, in an attempt to frame Tai Ji Men.

Besides, the NTB taxed Tai Ji Men as a cram school, even though the Ministry of Education had confirmed that Tai Ji Men is not a cram school, a conclusion accepted by courts of law and even in documents of the same NTB. It is appalling that this could happen in a democratic country such as Taiwan.

Dr. Hong and his wife were restricted from leaving the country four times, for a total of 2,687 days (7 years and 132 days) due to this false case deliberately fabricated by Prosecutor Hou. And finally, in 2020, Taiwan’s Administrative Enforcement Agency illegally auctioned parcels of lands that had been purchased by Dr. Hong for establishing a Tai Ji Men self-cultivation center. It felt as if my home were robbed overnight, and I could not call police for help because the crime was committed by the authorities themselves. Facing this unlawful act, we were furious. Despite our anger, Dr. Hong asked us to conduct our protests with peace and rationality. I don’t know how you feel when you hear these words. But when I think of a person who has been law-abiding throughout his whole life and tried to make more people happy every day, and in return has been mistreated by his country in this way for 25 years, I am completely filled with anger. However, the person that was falsely accused still told us to remain “peaceful and rational.”

I was very impressed by those two words. I realize that in life, we must be upright in everything we do. We may not be able to do everything perfectly and smoothly, but we have to insist on being upright. That is our lifelong standard and we are not asking for anything in return. Perhaps many believe that there were plenty of opportunities in the past 25 years when Dr. Hong could have compromised with the NTB and negotiated an affordable amount to pay. But he never considered that. Instead, he guided us to learn what is right through examining other cases where victims have suffered tax injustice and human rights abuses, and kept telling us to “Help them and fight together!”

I share this unforgettable lesson with you today because we are all in the process of pursuing respect for freedom of religion and belief. The words “peace and rationality” from Dr. Hong represent the persistence of justice, and tell us that no matter how many grievances and hardships we have experienced, we should still choose to fight for human rights along the right path. Although the way of self-cultivation varies in different eras, protecting human rights and religious liberty always remains a critical issue. We are not afraid of the challenges we face, as we believe conscience is deeply planted in our hearts. I hope that more people will awaken their conscience, show courage, and unite together so that we can become partners and insist on doing the right thing together. And therefore, no matter where we are in the world, we should believe that wrongdoings can ultimately be rectified. I am here today to call on the Taiwanese government to work hard to truly make Taiwan a democratic country guided by the rule of law, a country that meets international human rights standards and promotes the well-being of the nation and the world—a country we the people can be proud of.