The smiling, joyful faces of twin sisters Annabel and Joanna transcend the challenging childhood they experienced in China practicing Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline consisting of moral teachings, meditation, and qigong-like exercises.

The practice grew in popularity through the mid-to-late 1990s, reaching 70 million to 100 million adherents by 1999, according to official estimates.

But despite being peaceful and free of political aspirations, Falun Gong and its moral philosophy were increasingly viewed by some of China’s communist leaders as ideological competition to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).

In July 1999, then-Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin launched a nationwide campaign to “eradicate” Falun Gong.

Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have since been arrested, detained, and routinely tortured in prisons, forced labor camps, and detention centers, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center, the group’s press office.

The twins shared their story with NTD in a recent interview.

Annabel: “One time after [the practice] was banned, our small group went out to do exercises. When we sat down to do the fifth set of exercise, the police came.”

Joanna: “They took us all to the police station and squatted in a small hallway. They constantly shouted at us.”

Born in Guangdong, the Xia sisters have been practicing Falun Gong with their mother since childhood. Since the CCP’s suppression, growing up was always accompanied by fear. Because their mother is insistent about her belief, she was detained and put in labor camps successively. There was one memory that was especially unbearable.

Joanna: “The police station is behind our elementary school. We weren’t allowed to visit our mom. But we know she is under the stairs of the police station. She is detained alone; we can see our family’s quilt. We can only see our mom’s hands tied above the water pipe.”

Because of cultivation and anti-persecution, the sisters are more mature and stable than their peers. As they grew older, they become more aware of the meaning of life.

Joanna: “In the past, I also had conflicts with my mother. I also had some disagreements with my classmates. But with Master [Li’s] standards to be a person who is true, good, and forbearing, I would think that I should be a good student in school and a good kid at home.”

Annabel: “Throughout middle school, high school, and university, the students around us would be polluted by society’s declining morality. But we cultivate truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, and Master [Li] also requires us to use this standard. Therefore, we do not follow the crowd.”

The two sisters persisted with their beliefs and also told the people around them the truth about Falun Gong. However, the CCP’s suppression was ubiquitous. Their mother’s sudden death due to persecution caused a heavy blow on them.

Annabel: “For a long time, the CCP has been monitoring people. It doesn’t matter whether it is going to college or taking high school exams. They will make a call. Anyway, it’s never ending.”

Joanna: “Actually, she [mother] is under a lot of pressure, but she doesn’t tell us. She thinks we are children. There is no need for us to know too much, so she bears everything.”

Like the Xia sisters, there are countless families across Mainland China who have been separated because of the persecution. They hope these evil acts resulting in suffering and tragedy will end soon.

Annabel: “We hope that the world will pay more attention to the current persecution in China. In addition, more people should learn the truth and help stop this persecution so that they can have a peaceful and free cultivation environment.”