Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

They Were the Ones: A Song to Remember Those Who Sacrificed for Their Faith

It was this day in 1999 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a persecution against 100 million peaceful practitioners of Falun Gong
Published: July 20, 2022
Singer-songwriter James H. White released the touching song “They Were The Ones” about three sisters who were heavily persecuted for practicing Falun Gong in China. (Image: Courtesy of JHSmith/Cartiophotos)

For many people around the world, today, July 20th, is a day of tragedy and remembrance. It was this day in 1999 that Jiang Zemin, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), launched a persecution against 100 million peaceful practitioners of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa), an ancient Buddhist qigong meditation. 

Jiang Zemin was desperate to “build street cred” and show he was as ruthless as his predecessors, such as Mao Zedong, who slaughtered tens of millions of Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, and Deng Xiaoping, who killed thousands during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. 

Jiang’s aim was simple: to eradicate Falun Gong. His orders included the following: 

“Defame their reputation, bankrupt them financially, destroy them physically.” To carry out the genocide, he setup the “610 Office” with policies such as: “No measures are too excessive,” “No responsibility if beaten to death,” “Consider it suicide if beaten to death,” and “Cremate the body immediately without confirming the identity.” 

The ruthless Party leader thought that he could eradicate the spiritual group within a matter of weeks. That was 23 years ago today. 

Across the world, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists, politicians, VIPs, and journalists unite on this special day, a day filled with as much as strength as sadness. 

To raise awareness for this on-going genocide, I wrote a song, “They Were The Ones.” It’s about three sisters who were persecuted in China whom I met while working on the documentary, “Canaries in a Cold War.” After the documentary was finished, I still wanted to tell their tragic yet heroic tale through song. 

The three sisters James interviewed in his documentary “Canaries in a Cold War” describe a torture method they experienced whilst being persecuted for practicing Falun Gong in China. Screenshot from “They Were The Ones” music video. (Image: Courtesy of “Canaries in a Cold War,” Magnason Film)

To produce the track with me, I approached Dario Forzato, an Italian-born composer, songwriter, music producer, and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. 

“When James reached out to me, I was aware of China’s religious persecutions in the past but didn’t know about Falun Gong specifically,” Forzato said. “When James so passionately told me the story of these three sisters who were able to escape their captivity, I was drawn to learn more about this specific doctrine and felt connected to the story as part of an effort to talk about these social justice issues that are still very much present around the world. It is unbelievable what these three ladies went through and how they were able to escape and now advocate about this issue.” 

Listen to “They Were The Ones” on all platforms
Footage courtesy of “Canaries in a Cold War,” Magnason Film

Once we finished, I decided to release the track on this tragic day of remembrance, July 20th. I also asked several of the artists involved with the song and music video what this day means to them. Here is what they told me: 


Labor camp survivor / Erhu player in “They Were The Ones”

July 20th is very special to me. We received a phone call from a student in Beijing at the dawn of July 20th saying that four members of the Falun Dafa Association had been arrested. The CCP started arresting them today. 

For the person in charge, it was too late when we arrived at his house. He had already been arrested and his house was ransacked. We took the leftover Falun Gong books to our house. Then, at noon, my husband and I went off to work. I didn’t expect it to be our last meeting. 

We were kidnapped at our respective workplaces in the afternoon. My husband was sentenced to three years in prison, and I was sentenced to four years. We had just gotten engaged at the time, and the wedding had not yet been held. 

Years later, my husband is still in China. The evil Chinese Communist Party has cancelled his passport, and he has no way to leave China. At present, as husband and wife, we have only lived together for a few months since 1999.

Anna Kokkonen

Award-winning Finnish singer-songwriter / Vocals arrangement and backup singer on “They Were The Ones”

This is such a sad day for me. It is so hard to understand why innocent people are being persecuted only for wanting to be good. Falun Dafa practitioners are so brave, not giving up their faith, resisting the worst kind evil by kindness. On top of that, they are even helping others. Goodness will always prevail.

Vic May

My wife and British singer-songwriter / Backup singer on “They Were The Ones”

July 20th is a very solemn day. It marks the beginning of the largest and one of the most brutal persecutions in history targeting 100 million people. A persecution that continues to this day. 

Many experts have named it genocide, and I would also call it that. A genocide against people who choose Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance as a way of life. Yet, so many people I meet still don’t know about this genocide. They may have heard about the genocide of Uyghurs and perhaps, Tibetans, which is of course hugely important, but somehow the Falun Gong practitioners often get forgotten. And July 20th is a day to remember Falun Gong. The suffering, torture, imprisonment and abuse of millions, with tens of thousands being murdered by the CCP, with organs forcibly removed as a way of execution, to feed into the state-sanctioned on-demand multi-billion-dollar organ supply chain.

Falun Gong has meant so much to me in my life. When I came across this spiritual meditation, it talked directly to my heart. It is so peaceful and the genuine compassion that develops through it — it fills up my heart. I feel so connected to ancient Chinese culture and have a great love for it. It’s so sad that the Chinese Communist Party has tried to destroy China, destroy its culture, its values and even its people.

I have Chinese friends who were detained and tortured by the regime in China and some whose loved ones are currently still detained there. Such as my dear friend Minghui Yu. Her mother is currently detained in a Chinese prison, and she has no way to contact her, or know if she is okay. For Falun Gong practitioners, no matter where they are in the world, this persecution and genocide are very close to home.

Mathias Magnason

Award-winning Producer & Director of “Canaries in a Cold War” 

It’s one of the saddest days in human history when one hundred million peace-loving meditators who try to follow Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance have a persecution unleashed on them by this one dictator, Jiang Zemin. I think it’s a very sad day. It’s like Holocaust Remembrance Day, but at the same time, the persecution of Falun Gong is still going on. It’s an ongoing tragedy. I think it’s a very emotional day for a lot of practitioners because a lot of them have relatives over in China who are facing persecution. It’s been like that now for 23 years. I think it’s a day for the rest of the world to really think about because nobody is outside of these three values, Truth, Compassion, Forbearance. Those virtues are really a part of everyone’s life. 

Who wants to do business if you’re being cheated? Everybody wants a friend who tells him the truth. Everybody wants to be shown compassion. A world without compassion and tolerance would be a world no one would want to live in. These are the fundamental principles that are so important for every person in the world. These principles are under blatant attack in China and have been since July 20th, 1999, when Jiang Zemin ordered Falun Gong to be banned. So, I think it’s a day for people who don’t practice to reflect about the seriousness of the persecution, because it’s definitely a persecution against them as well and their right to follow those values.

In Washington, DC, Falun Gong practitioners observe a candlelight vigil in July, 2001, the second anniversary of the CCP’s persecution of the spiritual practice. (Image: Alex Wong via Getty Images)

If people really start looking at what those values mean to them in their lives, they will realize they are the most important things. Without truth, compassion, and tolerance, we can’t operate as a society. So, it’s a day where people around the world are not clear about that yet, but I think they will be in the future, and I think they’ll be shocked that we didn’t get it.