SGI organizations around the world

SGI-Taiwan: Engaged in Society

by Lin Chao, SGI-Taiwan General Director
SGI-Taiwan's new Zhinshan Culture Center in Taipei

On July 11, 2001, SGI-Taiwan received a good citizenship award from the Taiwanese Cabinet. This is the ninth year since 1992 that SGI-Taiwan has received this award, which is given to cultural and social groups that make an active contribution to society by promoting volunteer activities. In choosing the recipients, the government surveyed the activities of more than 4,000 groups, selecting a total of 33 for its highest honor. SGI-Taiwan is the only group that has received the prestigious award nine consecutive times.

The Interior Ministry, which presented the 2001 award, cited SGI-Taiwan for its wide-ranging contributions to Taiwanese society: its discussion forums and research meetings, its promotion of the arts, its cultural activities and its international exchanges. It also applauded SGI-Taiwan's publications for raising the spirituality of the population. SGI-Taiwan's response to the devastating September 1999 earthquake, which caused more than 10,000 deaths, received particular praise. Following the earthquake, SGI members on motorbikes delivered food supplies, drinking water and medical equipment to areas where the roads were impassable. Concerts have been held in the affected areas for the last two years, and have been lauded by local people for their morale-raising value. Taiwan was also seriously damaged by typhoons that struck in July and August 2000, and SGI-Taiwan responded with relief and reconstruction activities as well as financial donations.

While SGI-Taiwan is today extolled for its positive contribution to society, initially, the government's attitude toward the organization was dramatically different.

Years of Struggle

The starting point of the SGI movement in Taiwan dates back to January 1963, when SGI President Ikeda, on his way home to Japan from Hong Kong, was forced to land in Taipei because of engine trouble. On that occasion, he was able to meet some of the pioneer members in Taiwan. At the time there were severe limitations on the rights of free speech and association in Taiwan because of a bitter standoff between settlers from the Chinese mainland and the island's original inhabitants. The authorities therefore kept a close watch on members of the Japanese-originated Soka Gakkai. Zhu Wanli, now the honorary general director of SGI-Taiwan, was at the time the leader of the SGI chapter that had been formed there. He was frequently summoned to police headquarters, and the embryonic organization was even outlawed in April 1963.

Interior Minister Zhang Boya (left) presenting the award to SGI-Taiwan General Director Lin Chao

However, without any formal structure, and even though they were barred from holding meetings, the members continued to practice their faith. Mr. Zhu, meanwhile, embarked on a personal project to translate Nichiren's writings into Chinese, an effort that took 34 years to complete. It bore fruit when the Chinese-language edition of "The Complete Works of Nichiren Daishonin" was published in 1997.

Fostering Young People

At present, the SGI-Taiwan organization is focused on fostering a spirit of social responsibility and contribution among its youth members. The student division, for example, has formed the Community Service Group, an educational project designed to assist children in regions where the educational infrastructure is as yet inadequate, such as in agricultural villages, earthquake-stricken regions, mountains and other remote areas. The group enables young people to gain experience in assisting others and helps them develop their sense of value.

The Community Service Group with residents of Ching Shan village (July 2001)

In agricultural communities, there are few opportunities for children to get advice regarding their studies, since both parents are usually fully employed in the fields and the children are also expected to help. The Community Service Group project involves student volunteers from cities, in groups of 10 or 20, who spend their summer vacation in these rural communities, where they try to assist the children with their problems.

In many cases, parents from remote rural communities migrate to urban areas in search of work, leaving children with their grandparents. This makes it even harder for the children to receive an adequate education. The 1999 earthquake that devastated the central region of Taiwan, meanwhile, destroyed school buildings in addition to causing physical and emotional damage to the local communities, and there are still many children who are not receiving regular schooling. The members of the Community Service-Group have been assisting these children.

A friendship exchange with students from the Chinese mainland (Yulin, Taiwan, July 2001)

Another summer volunteer activity for the students is to provide academic advice and support at schools for ethnic minorities. Two-thirds of the children of ethnic minorities are orphaned or belong to single-parent families. The student group sends volunteers to these schools, with each student taking care of one or two of the local children. Some of the children at first found it difficult to trust the students because of their different ethnicities. Eventually, however, the students won the trust of their young charges and have been able to form strong relations with them. Local teachers have praised the project, saying that while in the past they have received assistance in the form of donations of money or other material aid, the students have been creating heart-to-heart relationships with the children.

Student Exchanges

Another of the major projects of SGI-Taiwan has been promoting student exchanges between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. The idea for this grass-roots project, which began 10 years ago, is that if the children of Taiwan and the mainland learn to understand the differences between their respective societies through direct experience when they are still young, a bridge of peace between the two neighbors will be created.

A concert held to encourage communities affected by the earthquake (October 1999)

SGI-Taiwan first became involved in this project seven years ago. Many of the children of the SGI members have now participated in it and they form a large percentage of its participants. In August 2001, following a visit to Taiwan by a group of Chinese children, 50 Taiwanese children visited the mainland accompanied by a Taiwanese TV film crew. A special feature was broadcast after their return and also shown throughout China. During the 10 years that this project has been running, the children have developed and maintained close friendships, exchanging experiences through correspondence and, in many cases, making further visits to each other together with their families.

SGI members on motorbikes delivering relief goods to an earthquake-stricken area in 1999

It is in recognition of such humanistic activities, especially the contributions of SGI-Taiwan's youth members, that the Taiwanese government has repeatedly recognized SGI-Taiwan over the last decade. In September 2001, Soka Gakkai President Einosuke Akiya visited Taiwan to celebrate SGI-Taiwan's 40th anniversary, opening the Zhishan Culture Center in Taipei. During his stay in Taiwan, Mr. Akiya met Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and discussed a variety of topics including peace, current world issues and the SGI's ideals. From their new center, the members of SGI-Taiwan are looking forward to further expanding and deepening their citizens' movement for peace, culture and education into the 21st century.