Dwarves a big hit at China theme park
In an imperial yellow coat and stylish shades, China’s dwarf emperor toddles from his tiny mushroom house to rapturous applause and a welcoming volley of ear-splitting techno music.
Barely a metre tall, the mini-monarch squats proudly on a royal stool as his court of dwarves and midgets - dressed as fairies, warriors, cooks, and monks - regale hundreds of paying visitors with a high-pitched, syrupy ballad. China’s imperial days may be long gone, but this scaled-down version lives on at the ‘Dwarf Empire’, a popular attraction at a theme park that opened in September in southwestern Yunnan province.
The ‘empire’ - part of a butterfly park - has quickly become the site’s main draw thanks to the popularity of dwarf performances that would likely evoke howls of protest in the West as an exploitative freak show. It includes a mini version of ‘Swan Lake’ and a male dwarf in leather pants and a punk hairdo hand-walking and gyrating his hips to thunderous hip-hop. But the more than 100 dwarves - known in China as ‘xiao ai ren’, or ‘little small people’ - who range in height from 79 centimetres (2 feet 7 inches) to 1.3 metres, dismiss suggestions the park demeans them. Several call it a haven in a country where their kind often face harassment and mistreatment and rarely get to mix with like-sized comrades.
“Before coming here, most of us faced discrimination. But here, we are equal and respected. We have our dignity,” said Ou Jielin, 24, who sold clothing in the southern province of Guangdong before coming to work at the park. Nestled in rugged hills about 40 kilometres west of the Yunnan capital Kunming, the park is the brainchild of flamboyant businessman Chen Mingjing, who made his fortune in electronics, real estate and other ventures. His hair slicked back and wearing a high-collared Chinese jacket not unlike that of the dwarf emperor, Chen said the idea came to him after he encountered midgets on a train. “We felt their lives were hard and bad, so we wanted to build a great place for them to live and a platform for them to work,” said Chen.
Employees get room, board and free English lessons - to chat with a hoped-for flood of overseas visitors. Few can get past “Hello”, however, except for one who introduced himself as being from the empire’s “Foreign Ministry”. Altruism aside, dwarves are good business. On a recent day, Chen’s empire heaved with hundreds of mostly respectful teen students from Kunming, cheering wildly and posing for photos with dwarves.
Chen is expanding the ‘empire’, which now consists of more than a dozen mushroom homes from which the dwarves emerge and descend to their performance area. A nearby hill is topped by a fortress-like emperor’s ‘castle’ opening later this year. New dwarves arrive weekly.
“We will build a team of 800 to 1,000 dwarves and make it the biggest wonderland for dwarves in the world,” Chen proclaimed. afp