The Call to Fraternity and the Tai Ji Men Case
In honor of International Day of Human Fraternity 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Let us build bridges between the faiths, inspired by our common humanity. And let us come together in solidarity to create a more inclusive, peaceful and just world for all.”
February 4 marks the International Day of Human Fraternity. In support of this important day, the Action Alliance to Redress 1219, the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), and Human Rights Without Frontiers co-organized an international forum at Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Los Angeles on February 5, 2022, with visionaries from around the world attending the event in person or online.
Through a video, Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze, Zhang-men-ren (grandmaster) of Tai Ji Men and vice president of the Association of World Citizens, delivered welcome remarks, emphasizing, “Conscience, kind thoughts, and good actions are the key forces that bring human fraternity into play and protect the sustainable development of the Earth. As long as people exert the influence of goodness in their respective positions, they can collectively create a butterfly effect of kindness and promote a harmonious, united, fraternal, and sustainable society through collective action while creating peace in their hearts and in the world.”
It was the fifth day of the Year of the Tiger. Pamela D. Pryor, Senior Bureau Official for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State, sent in her message, first wishing everyone a happy lunar new year! She also wrote, “I am sending warm wishes to you all on the International Day of Human Fraternity and the Tai Ji Men Case. There is never a reason for religious persecution or the deprivation of human rights, that in the view of the U.S. Constitution.”
Walnut City Mayor Eric Ching attended the event in person and extended his gratitude to Tai Ji Men for its promotion of love, unity, and peace over the past few decades. Prof. Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and the founder of CESNUR, flew from Italy to moderate the forum. He talked about the creation of the International Day of Human Fraternity, which commemorates the signing of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” by Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, in 2019.
Prof. Introvigne introduced a video message from Pope Francis for International Day of Human Fraternity. His Holiness stated, “Fraternity is one of the fundamental and universal values that ought to undergird relationships between peoples, so that the suffering or disadvantaged do not feel excluded and forgotten, but accepted and supported as part of the one human family.”
Prof. Introvigne emphasized that it is because he loves and supports Taiwan and wants Taiwan to be better that he is concerned about the Tai Ji Men case. While it is customary for dizi to give red envelopes to their Shifu in Chinese culture, in the Tai Ji Men case, Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau treated such red envelopes as tuition of a cram school and issued unjustified tax bills to Tai Ji Men and even auctioned and confiscated Tai Ji Men’s land intended for a self-cultivation center. Prof. Introvigne visited Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Los Angeles on the 5th day of the Lunar New Year, and Tai Ji Men dizi gave him a red envelope containing a golden coin made of chocolate. He asked ironically, “Will they (Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau) come and seize my home because I got a dollar in my envelope?”
Prof. Introvigne then said, “For several years, I and other scholars have admired the work of Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men, in promoting tirelessly global peace through conscience.” He pointed out the problem in the Tai Ji Men case: “Corrupted politicians and officials created the Tai Ji Men case with false accusations, fueled it by manipulating the media and spreading fake news against Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, and produced further corruption and persecution even after they had been declared innocent of all charges by the highest courts in Taiwan.” He also pointed out the harm created by the bonus system: “This corruption, sustained by the immoral system of high bonuses given to officials who collect money from tax bills, eventually led to the seizure, unsuccessful auction, and confiscation of sacred land intended for a self-cultivation center of Tai Ji Men based on a tax bill that should never have existed in the first place.”
Prof. Introvigne introduced a video titled “Abolish the Bonus System to Save Taiwan,” where Alex Liu, an assistant professor of chemistry at a military school in Taiwan, said that Taiwan is facing a grave threat, and that he has three key points that he would like to share with everyone: 1. Taiwan’s bonus system for tax collection is a breeding ground for corruption. 2. Such bonuses are the source of tax disasters in Taiwan. 3. He hopes that the conscience in all people of Taiwan will be awakened and that they will pay attention to this corruption problem and work together to save their country.
Former California State Senator Bob Huff echoed Pope Francis’ notion that “either we are brothers or sisters, or everything falls apart.” “None of us can force change on our family, on our neighbors, on our community, but we can certainly work on ourselves and force change on us, and change who we are,” he said, adding, “I would encourage us all to let world peace begin with ourselves and do what we can.”
Prof. Introvigne then introduced scholars and human rights activists. Dr. Holly Folk, professor of humanities and social sciences at Western Washington University, talked about the Tai Ji Men case: “I’ve already come to realize that it has international significance, and we should consider its implications beyond the borders of Taiwan. I’d like to say thank you to the efforts of Tai Ji Men in bringing this issue to the world’s attention.” She continued to say, “Honoring gifts bestowed in red envelopes at New Year’s and other festivals are very common in Chinese culture, so much so that it invites speculation how the tax agency could have misinterpreted these as tuition. The members of Tai Ji Men have gone to great efforts to provide complete and accurate information to the government, which has dismissed their attestations.”
Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, stated, “Humankind is plagued not only by the COVID-19, but also by the contagious virus of hate, discrimination and racism. The antidote or best antibodies to hate is human fraternity, which embodies compassion, mutual respect, unity, solidarity and renewed multilateral cooperation.” He also indicated that the Taiwanese authorities should recognize that Tai Ji Men has made great contributions to the well-being of the Taiwanese society and that Taiwan needs to catch up with the international human rights standards.
Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter Magazine, used the conversation between Humpty Dumpty in a famous nursery rhyme to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass to illustrate that in the Tai Ji Men case, some bureaucrats lied, exercised their authority arbitrarily, and persecuted Tai Ji Men. They claimed to be democratic and to respect human rights, freedom and fraternity, but that is not the case. They do not believe in truth and insist that Tai Ji Men is guilty even though the Supreme Court has found it innocent. He praised Tai Ji Men for their public welfare activities and for their compassion in bringing harmony and fraternity to the world.
Father Joseph Bature Fidelis, director of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, Nigeria, stated that human beings share a common destiny and that they should work together as brothers and sisters. He emphasized that Tai Ji Men was illegally and heavily taxed. That is inhumane, unfair, and must be condemned, he said, calling on everyone to stand together to ensure that the rights and dignity of Tai Ji Men are respected.
Michael Selfridge, representative of Tai Ji Men dizi, expressed his gratitude to all participants and said that Tai Ji Men loves Taiwan. He gave a concise explanation of the Tai Ji Men case: “Tai Ji Men is a menpai (similar to school) of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation, and its shifu (master) and dizi (disciple) have long been committed to international cultural exchanges, spreading the concepts of love, peace, and conscience, purifying people’s hearts, and practicing world peace. It has been highly praised by Taiwanese presidents, vice presidents, and foreign ministers. Since its inception in 1966, Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy has never had any tax problem; however, in 1996, it was persecuted during a political purge in the name of a religious crackdown.”
Selfridge continued to say, “We call on the Taiwanese government to: 1. implement transitional justice, revoke the illegal tax bills, return Tai Ji Men’s sacred land; 2. restore the reputations of Tai Ji Men shifu and dizi, clear their names, and return justice to them; 3. severely punish the unscrupulous officials to prevent similar cases from happening again so that Taiwan can become a true democracy respecting the rule of law, freedom, and human rights.”
“We love Taiwan,” said Dr. Alessandro Amicarelli, president of European Federation for Freedom of Belief, adding, “As we fight for Tai Ji Men, we are all working together to improve Taiwan’s standard of democracy, human rights, and respect of human dignity.” He then introduced six Tai Ji Men dizi from around the world.
Chiwen Su, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, suffered from anxiety disorder nine years ago. She joined Tai Ji Men to practice qigong and finally regained her health. However, since becoming a Tai Ji Men member, she has found that the media has published false information about the Tai Ji Men 1219 incident for a long period of time, causing the public to hold prejudice against Tai Ji Men, and some of her friends have even distanced themselves from her. She called on President Tsai Ing-wen to respond to the people’s demands and rectify this fabricated and unjust case!
Ann Chen, a dual licensed attorney in California and Taiwan, talked about injustices in Taiwan and said, “The core value of education is to inspire the innate goodness in people and their self-awareness, and tolerance, mutual respect, and diversity of religions and beliefs can promote human fraternity. Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze has been promoting the movement of “An Era of Conscience” since 2014, and he has led his disciples to visit 101 countries to spread love and goodness. Conscience is the guideline to save the world. If government officials follow their conscience, they will protect human rights and work for the well-being of the people and society. The more global citizens that have their conscience awakened, the safer our living environment will be.”
Dr. Linda Chen, post-doctoral research associate at Dalhousie University, Canada, spoke about how she was discriminated against as a Tai Ji Men member. She said that with the guidance of her Shifu (master), Dr. Hong, and the support of many international scholars, she has become a brave global citizen to speak out against social injustice. She expressed her gratitude to all international friends who care about the future of Taiwan and have voiced their support for Tai Ji Men. She hoped that all Taiwanese would work together to make Taiwan a democracy that protects human rights and religious freedom.
Dr. Donald Westbrook, a lecturer for the library & information science department at San Jose State University, USA, concluded the panel discussion by saying, “Let us all continue to work toward a just future, both for Tai Ji Men in Taiwan and other minority religious groups around the world. Thank you all again, in the spirit of fraternity and also religious liberty and human rights awareness, and, most importantly, making it a lived reality in our world wherever injustice remains.”
At the end of the event, through a video, a group of young people and children bravely came forward to speak about the injustices and human rights violations in Taiwan under the guise of democracy. They strongly demanded the Taiwan government to reform and implored the international community to help Taiwan become a true democracy so that Taiwanese people, especially the next generation, can have a brighter future. The event ended with the song “Love,” which is full of positive and warm energy, encouraging everyone to use the love in their hearts to overcome challenges, improve themselves, and make the world a better place!