Political Scientist Tyrene White Praises Chinese Activist's Work on China's One-Child Policy

Philadelphia Inquirer: Swarthmore scholar praises Chinese activist's work

May 4, 2012

Tyrene White has never met Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer at the center of a rapidly evolving diplomatic dispute between the United States and China. But she knows that his revelations about the horrors of China's one-child policy - the work that got him tossed into prison - are absolutely accurate.

She's done a similar investigation herself.

White, an Asia specialist at Swarthmore College, is perhaps the foremost authority in the United States on China's birth-planning laws. She's conducted firsthand interviews and field research, and her writing on the topic includes the book China's Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People's Republic, 1949-2005.

"Every single thing he described in his report, every detail he described about how this occurred, the techniques that were used, were completely consistent with what I found," White said in an interview.

On Thursday, U.S. officials said the rights activist now wants to leave China, a reversal that follows his dramatic escape from house arrest and a six-day stay the American Embassy...

Since Chen did his research in 2005, White said, the birth policy has become more relaxed and its implementation more complex.

In cities, the official policy remains one child per couple - unless both husband and wife are only children. Then they can have a second child....

The rural policy is more of a "one-son or two-child policy." If the first child is male, the parents can have no additional children. If the first is female, they can try later for a son.

"They still have the official policy in place," White said, but "the effect of that policy has been substantially undermined." ...

White grew interested in the topic as a graduate student at Ohio State University in the late 1970s. The United States and China had normalized relations after decades of isolation and antagonism, and a professor discussed what the new birth law might portend.

"I was stunned," White said. "It struck me, as a young woman myself, what it would mean to have this policy imposed."

In those days, Chinese women had to undergo gynecological exams every three months to check for pregnancy. Married couples needed a birth permit before having a child. If they became pregnant without permission and the local quota was full, they could be forced to have an abortion.

For White, the professional later became personal: In the late 1990s she began the process of adopting a daughter from China, now 12.

Today she believes the one-child policy will disappear in her lifetime - altered to allow second and maybe third children...