The Lollipop Guild and the rest of Munchkin Land. Snow White’s seven caretakers. Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas. All have two things in common: little people (colloquially, “dwarves”) and utter fiction. But dwarfism exists, and people with dwarfism need jobs. Combine that with a serious problem of discrimination against little people, and you could have a problem on your hands. For China, the controversial solution is the “Kingdom of the Little People.”
Located near the city of Kunming, the capital of the Chinese province of Yunnan, the Kingdom of the Little People is intended to be a tourist attraction — a theme park, of sorts, where everyone (except the visitors) is short. In order to work at the Kingdom, one must be no taller than 4’3″ tall, eliminating some of the ‘taller” people with dwarfism. As of early 2010, the park employed 100 such people and its owner aims to employ 1,000 total, according to Reuters. Those people hired by the Kingdom are offered housing in a dormitory-like environment customized for people of their short stature, and most are given a role as a performer inside the Kingdom.
Tourists pay a hefty sum for the honor of visiting — tickets cost about $10 (in yuan equivalent), an enormous amount given that per capita GDP in China is only about $5,000. The show they receive? The performers pretend to live in mushroom-like huts and act as if they’re members of a fiefdom lost in a Vaudevillian nightmare. Performers of short stature don tutus and put on a tongue-in-cheek version of Swan Lake. “Shaolin monks” put on a faux combat performance. A contingent of guardsmen march around the grounds, acting (as part of the motif) while doubling as crowd control. And ruling this whole kingdom — at least, in the context of the show — is a 3’3″ emperor, draped in a gold tunic and protected by bodyguards, as seen above.
The Kingdom of Little People is, of course, not without controversy. Multiple organizations — typically those involved with advocacy on behalf of those with dwarfism — have argued that the Kingdom is exploitative and robs the performers of their dignity, all for a cheap laugh. The Kingdom’s owner counters that the employees are well paid (about 1,000 yuan a month — roughly what a university graduate in the area may earn) plus room and board.
From the Archives: Short Temper: The Kingdom of the Little People may be inhumane, but it is Disneyland compared to Kim Jong-il’s tyrannical treatment of short people.
Related: You can’t buy butterflies in large quantities on Amazon — but you can buy 1,500 ladybugs.