Last September, the Kingdom of the Little People theme park opened in Kunming in southern China. The park currently employs over 100 little people, all between 18 and 48 years old and no taller than 4 feet 3 inches. For an admission fee of about $12, tourists can see the little employees perform various skits and pretend to live in tiny cottages. The park is the brainchild of a Sichuanese businessman Chen Ming, who has already invested about $150,000 in the park and plans on investing more than $1,000,000.
The park has been criticized both in China and the West. Xie Yan, director of Beijing’s One Plus One Cultural Exchange Center, says that Chen needs to be told “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.”
Yet the park also has its supporters. Chen displays a certificate he received from the United Nations World Peace Foundation. Chris Fetterer runs Tiny Entertainment, a party planning service based in California, believes in Chen as well. “I can understand why people could be offended by the theme park,” Fetterer said. “But little people don’t always have the same opportunities as everyone else. I think [Chen] is not just out to make money. It seems like he’s doing it for the right reasons.”
One of the park’s employees said her salary is more than double what she could get anywhere else in China. Quotes from other employees are also positive.
More than 83 million people are estimated to have disabilities in China. A 2006 survey by a government agency found that 40% of China’s people with disabilities are illiterate, and those who are employed make half as much as other workers. This disparity may be improving gradually but slowly, based on indicators like school attendance and those receiving low-income benefits.
[Image credit: Shiho Fukada, New York Times]