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Published:April 7th, 2010 11:51 EST
China's Dwarf Empire Amusement Park

China's Dwarf Empire Amusement Park

By Geoff Dean


Not to brag, but I have visited amusement parks on three continents. I have been to several in the states, one in Mexico, one in the Soviet Union (it was at the time), Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Fujikyu Highlands in Japan, and many others. I`m still working on Africa and South America but I thought I knew amusement parks pretty well. How wrong I was!

 In Yunnan Province in China, not far from the provincial capital of Kunming, there is a "butterfly" theme park, combining rides and butterfly viewing in enclosed areas, in and of itself, fairly unique. But the newly opened section of the park, the one that is attracting most of the visitors of late, is the Dwarf Empire, an attraction that features hundreds of dwarves living in mushroom shaped houses and performing.

 There are dwarves dressed as fairies, warriors, monks, and "ancient cooks" (whatever that means), and all are ruled over by a Dwarf Emperor and his dwarf bodyguard, who appear from a mushroom palace at certain times to greet the crowds of well-wishers. Some dwarves perform a brief version of "Swan Lake" and there is "Punk Dwarf Hip Hop Show".

 Many might see this a blatant, freak show-type exploitation but the dwarves themselves would beg to differ. Ou Jielin, 24, one of the performers, described the discimination and abuse faced by dwarves in Chinese society and said, "Here, we are equal and respected. We have our dignity." Furthermore, they have a chance to socialize with fellow dwarves which is almost impossible in China where dwarves are normally isolated from society and often hidden and withdrawn from schools by "shamed" famiies.

 The park owner, Chen Mingjing, decided to build the attraction after seeing some dwarves on a train and feeling compassion for their "plight", as he put it. Employees get room, board, and free English lessons. And they pack in the tourists with visitors to the Butterfly Park more than doubling since opening the new section.

 So, is it glorified voyeurism? Hideous exploitation? Or an otherwise non-existent opportunity? I can`t judge one way or the other but I feel some understanding for Ou, who said that, she felt that the park was her "destiny" and that all performers felt they were "a family." She planned to marry a fellow performer she met at the theme park, she added. Avoiding the perverse temptation to make some kind of snide comment or un-pc dwarf joke, I wish them all the best. If I`m ever in Yunnan, I will be sure to look them up. Up? (Somebody slap me, please!)