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The Kingdom of Little People in Cina
Since Disneyland opened the first modern amusement park in 1955 theme parks began to pop up like mushrooms in all sizes and variations. While fun and entertainment are usually the main elements, some parks have even been built for educational purposes around scientific or historical themes. Yet when the main theme of a park is dwarfism the issue becomes inevitably controversial.
Kunming, Yunnan, China
The Kingdom of Little People
The Kingdom of Little People was founded in 2009 by Chinese business man and real estate investor Chen Mingjing. His idea was to built a village for dwarfs where they could live among equals and earn a living by entertaining tourists. Chen invested 14 million USD to launch his project for which he choose an estate in the beautiful hillside country near Kunming, the capital city of the South-Western Chinese province Yunnan. To start Chen and his staff recruited about 100 dwarfs across China who became both citizens and employees of the Kingdom of Little People. There are basically only three hire requirements:
- no infectious diseases
- not older than 50
- maximum height of 130 cm (3 ft 4 in.)
If admitted dwarfs are employed by the kingdom to run the park and its shows and live in special dormitories among equals. The main attraction of the village is a sort of theater were dwarfs act out fairy tales, practice Qigong or perform ballets such as Swan Lake and even hip-hop dances. The show further includes circus stunts like tightrope walking and the presentation of the village's dwarf king. Visitors are also invited to take a walk across the fake hilltop village where the dwarfs pretend to live in crooked mushroom houses.
The Kingdom of Little People
Criticism from human rights advocates
An amusement park that has dwarfism as its main theme has understandably being controversial from the start. Human rights organizations like Handicap International and LPA (Little People of America) have criticized the project arguing that the park isolates dwarfs from society instead of helping their integration. Short-statured actor Warwick Davis spoke of segregation and exploitation. As dwarfism is treated as a humorous condition somehow the village resembles a human zoo.
An alternative viewpoint
Mr Chen conversely even makes philanthropist claims about his project. He argues his park has provided employment and a home for many dwarfs who would otherwise have been much more isolated in their hometown. In the kingdom instead they're able to earn a self-reliant living. Chen pays his kingdom employees between 1000 and 3000 yuan (150 to 450 USD) including free room and board. That is a modest but respectable sum by China's standards. As China's job markets for dwarfs is extremely harsh, for many villagers this is the only alternative to begging. Discrimination towards disabled people is still a major problem in China. According to a human rights watch report 40% of China's 83 millions disabled are illiterate due to school's discrimination.
Most villagers also said they liked the park much more than being lonely at home. They speak of an acceptance inside the park community they simply could not find in the outside world.
Mr Chen's thinking big
For now most visitors are students from nearby towns. Yet Mr Chen aims at attracting more tourists visiting China. He has therefore arranged English lessons for the villagers to help their interaction with foreign visitors. 5 years on the Kingdom of Little People has an established population of about 100 inhabitants, but Mr Chen is thinking big. He plans to invest about 100 million USD and gradually expand the the kingdom to include 1000 subjects.
Dreamland on Coney Island
Not the first dwarf village
The Chinese Kingdom of Little People is not the first attempt to establish a village of dwarfs. Dreamland, the renown amusement park on Coney Island, New York, included a Lilliputian village with 300 dwarfs. More commonly known as the Midget City it was an almost autonomous village including dwarf police and fire department. It lasted from 1904 to 1911 when the entire amusement park was destroyed by a fire never to be rebuilt.
A question of choice
Mr Chen is accused by human rights groups that his dwarf village resembles the freak shows of the past and exploits little people instead of providing an opportunity for dwarfs. The business man counters that people should decide for themselves. "If they like the kingdom they can work and stay here for rest of their lives" said Mr Chen. Otherwise there is no obligation, they are free to return to their hometown whenever they prefer to.
Pictures of everyday life
- The Dwarf Empire: China's theme park staffed by little people – in pictures | Art and design | The G
A look at China’s Kingdom of the Little People theme park through the lens of Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde