Chen Mingjing made his big foray into fantasy land in September 2009. Imagine a life size set of artificial castles and forests that resemble a page from the Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales but what will strike you the most in this urban neo-fantastic land are the characters populating the fantasy - all diminutive humans, most of them standing at 4 feet on the ground. Chen’s scheme of things is gigantic compared to the dwarf paradise he is building up on 13,000 acres of rolling hills and peaceful lakes in Yunnan, China. Chen has described this enterprise as a fairy tale; an artificially created landscape of caves, trees, a performance hall as well as special accommodations for his troupe of little people who perform comedies like Swan Lake for “regular spectators”. Meant as a humanitarian venture that would accomplish the much endeavored concoct of money and social work; The Dwarf Theme park attracted a lot of critical publicity in showing off people with different bodies as elements of entertainment. All this publicity has only helped the park turn it into an important tourist attraction for visitors in this region. Drawing criticism from Chinese expats and several human rights organizations, the theme park has sparked off controversies in debating some social issues.
Learning the Chinese health department’s statistics exposed a gloomy picture. According to a 2006 survey by China Disabled Persons’ Federation the estimated number of people with physical disabilities in China is about 83 million. Part of this large group is the dwarf population who are mostly unemployed. Only one-third of the group have access to some form of external help like trained professionals to aid the disabled. With little access to rehabilitation services, most disabled people end up without any educational or vocational skills. The notion that people with disabilities could be brought back to the social mainstreamed through education and ordinary jobs is still new in China. Created in such a social setting Chen’s park employs a hundred permanent staff on board and is ready to offer employment for more through its expansion.
If indeed you feel like you are in need of a cultural reality check during your China tourwalk into the Dwarf Theme Park. An entire theme park dedicated to portraying little people in a fantasy land full of emperors and queens, knights and angels through spoofs and slapstick versions of popular comedies, it receives hundreds of foreign visitors every day.
Closer home, characters from myths and folklore like “Dwarfs” and “Leprechauns” form an essential part of traditional festivities in different countries including the US even today. Think about the revelries on St. Patrick’s Day, a noted holiday celebrated not just by the Irish but by people of other nationalities too. Picture the red cheeked Cupid on Valentine’s Day, the doe eyed elves on Christmas parties and you will know that hiring people with a different body type is all very common. There is no dearth of such talent thanks to commercial ventures like Tiny Entertainment and Shortdwarf.com, US based companies who take pride in the efficiency of their dwarf actors regaling private parties. While these organizations are profit motivated they would also uphold their service in creating employment for this different group of people. Seen from this angle, Chen’s Dwarf Theme Park is doing quite a bit of community service with support from no less than United Nations World Peace Foundation.
So much for the Gulliver’s point of view looking at the Lilliput world. Let’s change sides. Administrators of the theme park point out that they receive a host of job applications, at least four every week, pointing out the scarcity of opportunities for the disabled in China. Rather than worrying about the implications that such a job in entertaining “regular people” with specialized antics would pose, applicants are interested in a security that such an employment would provide.
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MindsAbroad is your informed counselor for study abroad language programs in China. Learn Mandarin Chinese in China and enrich your cross-cultural experience. For more posts and information on Chinese language schools in Kunming, China visit www.mindsabroad.com.
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