TAIWAN: Tai Ji Men spiritual school: 24 years of persecution (1996-2020) – Part I: The 1996 crackdown
By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (30.09.2020) – In late August 2020, Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau (NTB) arbitrarily seized and auctioned properties that belonged to Dr Hong, the founder and spiritual leader of the Tai Ji Men movement and Academy in Taipei. Tai Ji Men is an organization of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation. The abrupt intervention of the NTB was allegedly due to a tax bill dating back to 1992, despite this bill having been successfully contested by the Academy through courts.
This latest move of the NTB fits a pattern of prejudice against Tai Ji Men and its spiritual master and is likely retaliation for other tax cases concerning Tai Ji Men that the NTB lost.
Tai Ji Men in Brief
This spiritual organization is a member of the Qigong and Martial Arts Associations and also a member of the Taoism Association, which were registered under the Ministry of Interior.
Dr. Hong Tao-tze established the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Taiwan in 1966. He is said to have inherited this ancient art form developed over thousands of years in China from recognised martial arts masters. There are thirteen Tai Ji Men academies in Taiwan and two in the United States.
At Tai Ji Men, members practice Qigong, which includes body movements and mental concentration to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health. The Academy integrates dance, music, drumming, and flags into its study and celebration of traditional Chinese culture, as well as into international advocacy for world peace and love. The academy merges medicine, philosophy, literature, education, and other disciplines into a holistic approach to the martial arts. The ties between Dr. Hong Tao-tze, who is known as ‘Shifu’ and viewed as a father figure and teacher at the same time, and his disciples, called ‘dizi’, are very strong. Similarly, the dizi have deep relationships amongst themselves. The organisation places great value on moral principles that aspiring dizi must abide by before being accepted as disciples of Tai Ji Men.
Dizi offer monetary gifts in the form of red envelopes to their Shifu, or master, in appreciation for the mental, spiritual, and physical growth they have gained from him. There is no tuition or other fees for joining Tai Ji Men or practicing Qigong. The red envelopes indicate the dizi’s respect for their Shifu, which is customary in Chinese culture.
The 1996 anti-religious crackdown in Taiwan
In 1996, Taiwan celebrated its first direct presidential elections and Lee Teng-hui was chosen as President. During the campaign, some large new religious movements, often labelled as ‘xiejiao’ which can be translated as either ‘heterodox teachings’ or ‘evil cults’, had supported other candidates. In the aftermath of the election, these groups were victims of political crackdowns. As a result, several were shut down, fled to foreign countries or were criminally prosecuted. This crackdown also impacted Tai Ji Men, although it had not supported any candidate in the democratic process.
The hostility against Tai Ji Men was then fuelled by poison-pen letters sent to the authorities. In November 1996, the Prosecutors’ Offices of Kaohsiung District and the Hsinchu District investigated the accusations against Tai Ji Men but did not discover any violation of the law or any victims. As a result, they closed the case.
However, on 19 December 1996, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou of the Taipei District Prosecutors Office ignored his colleagues’ conclusions that Tai Ji Men was innocent and began his own investigation.
The December 1996 crackdown
On 19 December 1996, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou commanded hundreds of armed policemen to raid and search 19 properties, including Tai Ji Men’s facilities and its disciples’ residences in different parts of Taiwan. He was accompanied by journalists, press photographers and media cameramen on this operation. Kuan-jen Hou was quite popular in the media and enjoyed the spotlight. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, and he was nicknamed‘ Judicial Rambo’.
Dr. Hong Tao-tze was still being interrogated on the evening of the raids when the CTV channel was already announcing a breaking story that Tai Ji Men’s leader was accused of fraud. The following day, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou inflated the total balance of NT$610,000 to NT$3.1 billion during an interview with the media.
The tragic consequences of this crackdown
On 19 December 1996, the prosecutors and investigators searched all Tai Ji Men facilities, sometimes without showing any warrant, and took many disciples to a Bureau of Investigation field office for interrogation. Some disciples were submitted to inhumane interrogation that lasted over 24 hours.
Mei-ying Chiu recalls that an investigator asked her to go with him to their field office for interrogation without even knowing her name. She said that he had no right to arrest her as she had not done anything illegal, but he threatened her. As soon as she entered the Hsinchu Field Office, female investigators grabbed her by the arms and took her into a small room where they started an exhausting round of interrogation.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the residences of five Tai Ji Men’s disciples – Hsiu-chen Wen, Cheng-wen Li, Wan-ting Chang, Tiao-hsin Chen, and Li-chuan Peng – were searched by the order of Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou. These disciples were also taken to a Bureau of Investigation office to be interrogated for hours.
Some of the tragic consequences of this judicial-media show was that some Tai Ji Men practitioners were scapegoated at school, others lost their job and a few families were broken up.
Hsiu-chen Wen, a Tai Ji Men disciple, was surprised when her home was suddenly invaded and searched by the police who then took her for interrogation. Her husband was very upset about the negative press reports surrounding this home search and locked her out of their house after discovering that she went to Tai Ji Men facilities. This traumaticincident caused tremendous mental and physical strain for Hsiu-chen Wen and led to the breaking up of her family. Additionally, she was a top executive of a well-known publishing house but after being named in press reports, she was demoted by her employer. The hostility and stress that she experienced took a toll on her health and she passed away less than three years later.
Cheng-wen Li, another disciple, stated:
I am from a decent family with my handling of interpersonal affairs widely recognized by my supervisors and peers. I have been enthusiastic in helping others and have used my leisure time to work as a volunteer for a hospital for over ten year. It was unexpected that in the early morning of Christmas Eve, several ferocious stocky men visited us with a warrant, rummaging through chests and cupboards. They were unable not only to name the reasons for the search but also to indicate the evidence they were looking for. Later, without giving any reason, I was taken away against my will, leaving behind my wife and my five-year-old child, who were confused and frightened. I learned later that I could have refused to go with them if they failed to show me an interrogation notice. However, most law-abiding citizens do not know how to protect their basic human rights.
Incommunicado detention for 40 days and coercion of testimony
Li-chuan Peng’s home was also searched by Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou that Christmas Eve morning in 1996. She was an elementary school teacher who had become a Tai Ji Men disciple in 1993. She was not given a reason for the search or accused of anything.
Shortly thereafter, she was taken against her will to a Bureau of Investigation field office for interrogation. From 8:00 am to midnight Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou tried to coerce her into accusing the master of the Academy. He frequently pounded the desk to intimidate her, but she refused to make false statements. She was consequently held incommunicado. Neither her family nor her school were informed about her arrest, and her seven-month old child and her handicapped mother-in-law were left without her.
For her husband, colleagues and students, she had mysteriously and tragically disappeared. They were very anxious and searched for her everywhere, but without any success. Later, the principal of her school filed an inquiry with the Taipei District Prosecutor’s Office about her whereabouts. On 31 December 1996, he finally received a response confirming that she had been held incommunicado in the Tucheng Detention Centre for the last seven days.Apparently, someone had forged her signature on her detention notice.
Li-chuan Peng was arraigned for the first time by Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou on the 28th day of her detention. The first thing he said to her was: ‘I know you are innocent’. She begged him tearfully to release her because her child and mother-in-law needed her at home. However, instead he threatened her with a prolongation of her incommunicado detention, hoping to pressure her to testify against the Academy’s master.
During her 40 days of detention, she was only arraigned three times. On two occasions, her lawyer was not notified and the interrogation took place without his assistance.
During the interrogation sessions, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou distorted Li-chuan Peng’s answers. He even told the clerk to record things she had supposedly said when she refused to answer. These fabricated transcripts were to be used in court to incriminate the master of the Academy.
On 31 January 1997, Li-chuan Peng was taken to the Bureau of Investigation in Hsintien for a polygraph test. She answered each question truthfully and was hopeful it would help her case, as she had not committed any illegal activity. At the end of the test, she was not informed of the outcome. On 1 February, Prosecutor Kuan-jen Hou released her with bail, but he warned her to not divulge anything about her detention.
In Prosecutor Ho’s indictment, he accused her of ‘lying in [her]answers to all important questions’ and asserted hisbelief that she colluded with other defendants to conduct fraud in the name of Qigong. However, there was no record of the polygraph test in the files submitted to the court.
After Li-chuan Peng was released on bail, she faced negative pressure from the press and a lack of support from friends and relatives. This case impacted both her and her husband’s careers, as he never got the promotion he deserved and she was forced to retire from teaching, a job that she loved.
1,000 New Taiwan dollars = about 29 EUR or 34 USD
Wrongful Tax Bills More Terrifying Than Natural Disasters, pp 152-201, by You-chen Su, Attorney and Chairman of the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Taiwan Bar Association and Honorary, Chairman of the Chinese Association for Human Rights,in “20 Years of Oppression and Injustice, A History of Human Rights Struggles” by Min-Yuan, Tan Ping-Fan &Ding Ching-Bai Huang, Grand Justice Publishing Ltd, March 2016.
Judicial Persecution – White Terror Revisited, pp 92-101, by Chung-mo Cheng, Former Justice of the Constitutional Court & Vice-president of Judicial Yuan (Taiwan), in “20 Years of Oppression and Injustice, A History of Human Rights Struggles” by Min-Yuan, Tan Ping-Fan &Ding Ching-Bai Huang, Grand Justice Publishing Ltd, March 2016.
Tragedies of Injustice in our Social Atmosphere, pp 82-91, by Prof. Keh-Chang Gee, Director Research Center for Taxation and Public Finance Law, College of Law, National Taiwan University, in “20 Years of Oppression and Injustice, A History of Human Rights Struggles” by Min-Yuan, Tan Ping-Fan &Ding Ching-Bai Huang, Grand Justice Publishing Ltd, March 2016.