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Inside ‘Dwarf Empire’: China’s Controversial Theme Park

writer: Rowena Ryan source:

'Dwarf Empire' cast members perform at the Dwarf Empire theme park outside Kunming in China's Yunnan province. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

LYING in the mountains of Southern China sits a village made up entirely of dwarfs where all residents must be under four foot three inches and it has its own police station and fire brigade.

Found in 2009, this “Kingdom of the Little People” lies near the city of Kunming, and is known as Dwarf Empire — a controversial theme park created by a Chinese entrepreneur named Chen Mingjing.

He employs over 100 dwarfs to perform two daily shows to ogling tourists who live in a fantasy world in mushroom-like castles ruled by an emperor and empress. The performances typically include Qigong (a type of spiritual practice), scenes from the ballet, hip-hop dances and a speech from the “dwarf king.

'Dwarf Empire' cast member 19-year-old Han Zhen Yan posing in her fairy costume backstage outside one of the fairy tale-like houses. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

The residents are housed in dormitories specially built for their size and have been lured to the park with the promise of a better life. Depending on what job they do, employees can earn between $160 and $400 a month. Despite accusations of being more like a human zoo, the owner says his employees receive salaries far better than many in the region as well as guaranteed housing — in stark contrast to many of their former lives on the streets.

The owner has plans to expand the empire across China and employ up to 1000 dwarfs.

Lv Qiangyong in front of the fairy tale-like village after his performance at the Dwarf Empire. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

'Dwarf Empire' cast members 21-year-old Du Zhuang, Zhang Jie Min, Li Ying' An and 22-year-old Shu Chen Jiao before going on stage Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

The mushroom houses used in the daily performances. Picture: AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKSSource:AFP

Staff member Luo Gang carries eggs to one of the shops inside the Dwarf Empire theme park before the start of the day. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

19-year-old Han Zhen Yan (L) and 19-year-old Peng Chun Song apply make up backstage. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

'Dwarf Empire' creator Chen Mingjin plans to open more across the country. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

Cast members play volleyball outside their dormitories. Picture: EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL.