by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Jiang/WikiCommons/CC

THE DPP, KMT, and PFP have failed to take action to curb scams masquerading as religious organizations with the passage of the Financial Group and Corporation Law (財團法人法) after its third reading in the Legislative Yuan. Notably, the act did not include religious organizations under its purview, although this was pushed for by the NPP. In justifying its push for this, the NPP cited the need to preserve freedom of religion in Taiwan, but stated that if corporations and businesses are to conduct business under open and transparent auspices, one should at least expect the same of religious organizations.

Taiwan proliferates with a number of scams masquerading as cults. Most recently, this became the object of scandal and popular mockery in fall last year with the Rulaizong Buddhist organization found to have purchased two Rolls Royces for its spiritual leader, Miaochan. This would not be the first time that the Rulaizong Buddhist organization, which claims to be a lay Buddhist organization, has been accused of purchasing expensive gifts for its leader, Miaochan also frequently wearing a 3 million NTD jade pendant that the organization purchased for him, for example.

Photo credit: Rulaizong website

Rulaizong reportedly has 80,000 to 110,000 members in Taiwan, each of which pay 1,000 NTD to 2,000 NTD to the organization monthly. As a result, Miaochan is thought to have a yearly income of over 72 million NTD from his organization. Rulaizong operates 30 temples across all of Taiwan, as well as operating student groups in over 100 universities. Attesting to the reach of the organization in society, Yuanta Bank even features a special credit card just for Rulaizong members.

However, Rulaizong may only scratch the surface of scams posing as religious organizations in Taiwan. First and foremost, Rulaizong is far from the only religious organization accused of acting like a scam or a business in Taiwan, other Buddhist organizations such as Tzu Chi or Fo Guang Shan having also been accused of acting like businesses, or taking advantage of the poor. Such religious organizations are sometimes socially influential enough that they have facilities throughout Taiwan and operate campus-based student groups in order to recruit young and impressionable members. Likewise, wrongdoing by other religious group leaders continues to be in the news, as observed in Yu Han-ning, a leader of the “Spiritual Ocean” religious group, refusing to speak with police after killing two and severely injuring three in a Lamborghini crash while speeding through a tunnel.

Apart from Buddhist, traditional Chinese religions, as well as Christian groups, Taiwan also has a number of New Age religious groups, such as Scientology, Raelianism, and a number of UFO worshipping groups, have also taken root in Taiwanese society. As with Rulaizong, such groups are accused of being cults or scams centered around their spiritual leaders. Apart from religious groups, some minor political groups are also accused of more or less being scams, such as the Taiwan Civil Government, which claims that Taiwan still belongs to Japan, and that it is the only legitimate representative of what the rightful government of Taiwan should be.

Nevertheless, it may not be surprising that the vested political interests of the KMT, DPP, and PFP alike would fail to confront cult or scam-like religious groups in Taiwan. Namely, political parties of the pan-Green and pan-Blue camp alike have deep ties to religious groups in Taiwan. Religious groups also provide a reliable source of political support for political parties, at times.

The entrance to the Taiwan Civil Government’s “Taipei State Office.” Photo credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC

It is the KMT which is generally better known for its affiliation to religious cult or scam groups, seeing as many in Taiwan draw on traditional Chinese religious practices and this leads to a great deal of overlap with the KMT’s pan-Chinese nationalism. However, the DPP has sometimes proven no different, party heavyweights such as Frank Hsieh having close ties with religious leaders such as Sung Chi-li, who was arrested on charges of stealing several hundred million NTD from his followers in 1997. The DPP may itself hope for access to the political networks that such groups provide, or may benefit from financial kickbacks from them, much as the KMT has in many cases.

And so it may be that it will still be some time before the Taiwanese government takes action against powerful religious groups in Taiwan. Much may need to change about the Taiwanese political system for change to take place, then.

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