Dwarf Theme Park Draws Criticism from Disabled Groups

Posted Mar 27, 2010 by Laura Trowbridge
China's "Little People's Kingdom", employs 108 dwarfs from around the country who dance and sing in fairytale costumes, drawing curious crowds and plenty of criticism.
A  little person  picture.
A "little person" picture.
Just Jefa on flickr
The theme park located in China's southwest Yunnan province is like a dwarf fantasy kingdom where guardian angels, a king, an army, a health bureau and its own foreign ministry all pretend to live in a miniature hilltop village.
The little people gather twice a day to put on performances for tourists and school children. The $12 shows include funny skits, group dances and acrobatics that some critics are likening to medieval freak shows.
The main highlight of the show is a comical rendition of Swan Lake where the male and female performers are dressed in pink tutus, pretending to be little swans.
"The first time I performed it, I felt a bit embarrassed. I had never worn a skirt like that before. But later, once I got used to it, performing it felt very natural and I found I could do it very well," said Chen Ruan, 21, from Hunan province who joined the park when it opened last July.
Some disabled people's rights groups and members of China's vocal online community have said the kingdom is "humiliating" and that it increases stigma.
"We need to go and tell him, the owner of the theme park, how to respect disabled people's rights, how to help disabled people to develop in their own lives, and not to exploit people's curiosity for commercial success," Xie Yan, director of Beijing's One Plus One Cultural Exchange Centre, an NGO which focuses on helping disabled people in China.
To qualify for employment at the theme park the person must be under 51 inches tall and self-sufficient. The employees range in age from 18 to 48-years-old.
They live in a large dormitory that looks like a cave. Everything from sinks to light switches was designed specifically for their small stature to make life easy for them at the park. They share rooms, wash clothes and eat together like a family. Some say living in the park is a great opportunity to be around similar people who are not prejudiced.
Li Caixia said her disability had made it almost impossible to find well-paid work after graduating from high school, even though she could meet all qualifications of jobs she sought.
The creator of the theme park, Chen Ming, said he has invested about $14 million on the park and plans to invest another $11 million in expansions.
Although it has not made a profit yet, Chen hopes to employ around 1,000 dwarf performers within a few years.
"I'm very happy with it. What I need now is for some people, especially Europeans and Americans, to understand us. Because some people don't get it, they think we are using the dwarves or something like that. But what we are actually doing is giving them a platform to live, giving them worth and the ability to work freely, to exist freely," he said.