Yunnan’s dwarf theme park

No one told me about the Kingdom of Dwarves theme park when I was in Yunnan (and don’t miss that slideshow!). It’s on my list for the next trip. And for those looking for work, they’re recruiting – as long as you’re under 4’3″ tall.

Is there something wrong with exploiting people’s physical abnormalities (for want of a better word) to lure in the curious, similar to what a freak show does? These people don’t think so, and in fact seem quite delighted with their work.

To many around the world, the very idea of putting people on stage to perform simply because they don’t look like everyone else is cringe-inducing. But even though they must dress up in frilly princess and caped warrior costumes befitting small children and dance for tourists, performers at the bizarre theme park see this place as a haven from the overwhelming discrimination they face in China at large.

“Back home, strangers will stare at and they look down on us,” said Yang Lichun of Beijing, who moved across the country to work at the park this summer with her fiance. “If we can even find jobs at home, we have to work harder than everyone else to prove ourselves.”

….The workers simply see this as dagong — the modern Chinese notion of migrant work, leaving your hometown for a job elsewhere. Tens of millions do it for factory and construction work; these workers came here to put on a show for tourists who want to see little people.

Considering that all parties – the dwarf performers and the visitors who flock to see them – seem happy with the arrangement, I can’t see any reason to be critical. It’s not like we haven’t done anything similar.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 25 Comments

Might I guess that they only seem to be willing do this because they feel that is the only work they COULD do in China? It’s been my impression that little people in China face intense discrimination in the job market.

October 18, 2009 @ 10:59 am | Comment

Does “da gong” really necessarily have the connotation of migrant labor, or is this just another correspondent being too clever with her limited Chinese?

Nothing really to say about the actual subject. Chinese not respecting others’ dignity is not big news.

October 18, 2009 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

If there is no better option, it is not a bad solution after all.

Yes, discrimination has to be fought and equal opportunities promoted, but in the meantime…. seemingly bad solutions are not so bad after all.

Such solutions may paradoxically help improve their situation, making society be more aware of the problem.

In some countries help organizations run into problem with their country of origin govt, because some activities they perform may fall into the Child exploitation.

Programs that allow children to perform small jobs to help family income are forbidden. The results sometimes are catastrophic, forcing the childeren to do… something much worst to help their families….

Local conditions must be taken into account, and not use blindly the same rules as in a (more?) developed country.

October 18, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Comment

I agree, Eco.

October 19, 2009 @ 1:52 am | Comment

I Believe A Strong Military Is A Necessary and Sufficient Condition For a World Power

Sufficient condition means if a country is militarily strong, then it can be called a world power, even if it’s weak in other areas. For example, the USSR was unanimously agreed to be a world power. The Roman Empire, the Arabian Empire, the Mongolian Empire. They all had a very very strong military. They may have a lot of problems with the economy, social tension, environment, or maybe even starvation. Yet, all historians refer to them as world power, as long as they have a strong military.

Necessary condition means in order to be called a world power, you must have a strong military. If your military is not strong, then no matter how rich you are, how peaceful your society is, how happy your citizens are, how clean your environment is, how great your healthcare system is, etc, you cannot be called a world power. China’s Song Dynasty’s GDP and its citizens quality of life and its amount of poets and philosophers all surpassed the Mongolian empire several times over, but Song did not have a strong military and did not spend in the military. And as a result, all of its wealth, its delicious food, its beautiful architecture, its great books, its great poets and philosophers, all of those were useless when faced with the arrows and horses of the Mongolian military. Song Dynasty fell to the Mongols led by Ghengis Khan, and China was then occupied by a foreign power for the next almost 100 years. Historians today refers to the Mongolian Empire as a great power, but very few call the Song dynasty a great power. Likewise, no one today calls Sweden a great power, no one calls Denmark a great power. Even though they both have very rich citizens, very healthy society, very clean environment, very friendly policies, very good social security, very beautiful scenery, very good education, etc. But Russia today is still called a great power, why? You think it’s because Russia have good social security, good healthcare, clean environment, safe streets, friendly citizens to foreigners, high personal income level? No, it’s because it has enough nuclear stockpile to guarantee the biological elimination of the entire Western world 3 times over. Without that, who cares about Russia? If you look at the 5 UN Permanent Security members today, what is in common about all 5? They all have nuclear arsenals, and they all have a formidable military, no question.

The view of Democracy lovers and Rightists is that China must adopt democracy and open elections immediately, just like the USSR, and spend more money in “social services” and spend less in military and technology. What is happening to Russia today? Is Russia’s citizens better off than it is in 1987? Vladimir Putin said “The Fall of the USSR is the biggest tragedy in the 20th century”. And Vladimir Putin is extremely popular amongst the Russians, most of whom, according to a recent poll, most of whom think the fall of the USSR was bad for their country, and they voted to restore the old Soviet national anthem. Democracy lovers, how do you explain that?

October 19, 2009 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Remind me how, a few weeks ago, some Chinese client I was meeting with told me “Let’s go to KTV, I want to see a Jew sing!”.

Could be an idea for a new theme park….

October 19, 2009 @ 10:57 am | Comment

“Let’s go to KTV, I want to see a Jew sing!”

Did you punch him? :)

(Would you have punched him if he wasn’t Chinese?)

October 19, 2009 @ 11:03 am | Comment

I hate to say this, but you might be partly right about that Math. Check out this article from the NYT, titled:

Russia’s Leaders See China as Template for Ruling

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/world/europe/18russia.html?_r=1

And let’s not fool ourselves, they are far from being the only country eying enviously China’s political model. In fact, more than half of the world is looking at this option right now, probably even more.

October 19, 2009 @ 2:20 pm | Comment

@Resident: I don’t think he meant any harm, it’s just a combination of cultural innocence (read: ignorance) and bad grammar.

Obviously, in any other country this type of expression would not go down too well…

October 19, 2009 @ 2:29 pm | Comment

We did this in the US. It’s been years since I read it, but Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York talks about the freakshow that Coney Island was. A kind of sideshow Vegas. they gave the little people royal titles as well: Emperor, Prince, etc. Rem noted that it was interesting, as you didn’t just watch them perform, you would walk among their homes in a little village that was architecturally adventurous since it was much cheaper to build for the dwarves.

From http://www.kevinbaker.info/a_nyt_acikof.html

The very spot where the Brooklyn Cyclones now roam was once Steeplechase Park, where nearly every ride was designed to throw members of opposite sexes together—albeit at bone-crunching speeds. Women descending from mechanical horses on the Steeplechase’s track found their dresses blown up by hidden jets of air, while men and women alike were attacked by a leering dwarf in a harlequin costume, armed with a cattle prod. At one point, the island featured a 150-foot-tall, tin-and-wood hotel, built in the shape of an elephant, with glowing yellow eyes, an observatory in its houdah and rooms full of prostitutes.

Elsewhere you could visit a village built entirely to the proportions of some 300 dwarves and midgets who lived there year-round. Or at the Infantorium, you could see for a few cents the life-and-death struggle of premature babies in their incubators…

Rem did note that the premature infant viewing “center” where you could watch doctors working with and on the infants, led to funding for research that was quite positive.

That being said, I once visited “Foreigner city” in a suburb of Chongqing and was deeply offended, and a little amused. They have seats in the shape of a rump and legs, so you can sit in it and look like you have a foreigners’ big ass. There are buildings built to look upside down, it was surreal… A lot of the buildings are built purposely leaning over. The sinks in the men’s bathroom are in the shape of a womans rear and legs, so it looks like you are going to violate it when you use it.

Descriptions of it have popped up before, but haven’t really noted that the proportions are more Western than Chinese, perhaps to let the Chinese men indulge some fantasies about Western women.

I can laugh at the absurdity of it, but I can also be offended by the small-mindedness of it. It is strictly designed to make fun of laowai as the “other” that comes from a strange world. It is aimed at working class Chinese with little money to spend.

Could you just see the flurry of lawsuits hitting the fan if someone tried to do this in modern America?

October 19, 2009 @ 3:06 pm | Comment

Oy vey…

October 19, 2009 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

Does anyone notice that the web site in the link (globalpost) keeps popping up windows? I have to close the window before getting a chance to read the content.

October 20, 2009 @ 1:40 am | Comment

I’m kind of late to the game here but…nice that you picked this up. As an aside, I’m a fan of the Global Post (and in particular, Kathleen McLaughlan’s writing).

Yes, indeed, we did the same, with minstrel shows and worse. Still, that doesn’t keep us from feeling a sense of shock.

Reminds me of when I went to the “Golden Triangle” park on a border town in Burma. It had a showcase of oddities among the tribal minorities, including a woman with golden rings around her elongated neck, and a stop where, while no one was there, promised to show “natives showering outside” by a stream. Bizarre.

October 21, 2009 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

I Believe Mao Zedong Is A Greater Man Than Jesus Christ

First, Mao Zedong made Chinese nation rise and become stronger. Before 1949, every nation could push China around. In 1840, a few thousand British soldiers totally beat the crap out of the Qing Empire. In 1858, it’s a few thousand British/French soldiers, In 1894, it’s twnenty thousand Japanese soldiers, then it’s tens of thousands of soldiers from 8 Western countries, then it’s the Japanese Emperial Army in 1931…..

But after 1949, Peng De Huai forced the UN forces to sign the ceasefire treaty on the Korean border in 1954, ending the history where emperial powers can set up a few cannons on the sea outside Shanghai and conquer China. In Korea, China was able to achieve a draw with the most militarily powerful country in the world. American spent 10+ years trying to defeat Vietnam, while it took China two weeks in 1979 to across 3 km’s into Vietnam and occupy some Vietnamese cities….

What about Jesus Christ? The Jews have always been bullied and massacred everywhere. Only in 1948 did they get a land called Israel. But even today, there’s no peace on that land, but instead all kinds of car bombings…

Second, Mao Zedong created for China a complete system of Industry, Farming, Technology and Education. During Mao Zedong’s rule, China successfully researched and built Nuclear Bomb, Hydrogen Bomb, Intercontinental Missile, Nuclear Submarine… But under Jesus’s rule, the Jewish created nothing, and still lived under a primitive/slave society. And also, the ideas of Jesus Christ severely hurt the progress of Science. For example, many bright scientists such as Galileo and Bruno were prosecuted and killed for violating Jesus Christ’s thinking. The middle age in Europe is the darkest age in European civilization.

Third, Mao Zedong allowed the Chinese nation’s population to multiply and prosper. When Mao Zedong first took power, China had 0.5 billion people. In 1980′s census, China had 1 billion people. We know that in biology, the population growth of a type of bacteria is a strong indicator of that bacteria’s environment and health. Stronger growth means that bacteria is living in a very healthy and favorable environment. In economies, there’s a famous term called “Mao Zedong Jump” which is used to refer to a sudden growth in a nation’s population, and is an indicator of a massive improvement in the living standards of that nation. I believe a few years ago a French economist won the Nobel Prize for creating the theory of “Mao Zedong Jump”.

Did Jesus Christ do anything to increase the population of the Jews? No. So in this point, Mao Zedong totally surpassed Jesus.

Finally, Jesus is a very arrogant man, and often acts like he’s an aristocrat. He often brings up his father’s name, and if someone disagrees with him, he’ll claim that his father is God, and anyone who disagrees with him or his father will be punished… And he also forces others to believe him, and does not allow any one to doubt or challenge his opinions, and often emphasizes that he’s the greatest, and no one can compare with him, and he’s the only one who knows the truth, etc etc etc. This is a very bad attitude and only spoiled rich people have this kind of attitude.

Mao Zedong, on the other hand, is much more modest. He often says that he has not done enough for China, and often says that it’s possible that he would make mistakes. And he often made many self-criticisms during internal meetings of his Party, and even stepped down voluntarily when he thought he made some mistakes during the “Great Leap Forward”. And later in life, he forced his own party to write that he made many mistakes in official party documents, as he does not want to be remembered as a “God”. So today, if you read the official document on Mao Zedong from the Chinese Communist Party, you’ll find many areas where the document says Mao Zedong made many mistakes.

Overall, I think Mao Zedong is a greater man than Jesus Christ. I don’t understand why many Jesus-believers want the entire human race to worship Jesus, I think Jesus is nothing but a tribal leader. I think there are more reasons to worship Mao Zedong than Jesus Christ. Of course I don’t believe in worshipping anyone, I think everyone is equal and human.

October 22, 2009 @ 2:02 am | Comment

That being said, I once visited “Foreigner city” in a suburb of Chongqing and was deeply offended, and a little amused. They have seats in the shape of a rump and legs, so you can sit in it and look like you have a foreigners’ big ass.

Hahahahaha

Could you just see the flurry of lawsuits hitting the fan if someone tried to do this in modern America?

Americans disparage “Asians” all the time and get away with it. Nothing would happen.

October 22, 2009 @ 8:18 am | Comment

I think this is a wonderful thing in China. There are so many migrant workers; people in poverty would kill for this kind of job opportunity. Especially for people who are “different”. I can’t even imagine how tough a drawl’s life is in China. The Chinese society is definitively not set up for them to succeed. I don’t think this is an issue of discrimination at all; they are given an opportunity utilizing their “nature talent” to have a different and perhaps better life. And what’s wrong with entertaining people with “freaks”. Don’t we all do it anyways? Media all over the world certainly does it every day, from US talk shows like Jerry Springer to Oprah; and how about TV shows like “the biggest loser”… I think it’s wonderful if you can amuse people by just being who you are and profit from it. I support the park and the dwarfs who work there. It’s a great idea creating this place providing sense of belonging for these otherwise social outcasts, an opportunity for them to have a different life. More power to the dwarfs generating profit by amusing the visitors, after all it is an amusement park.

October 22, 2009 @ 9:11 am | Comment

Wow! That last one was a dog’s breakfast, Math.

I do agree that Mao was greater, Jesus Christ didn’t exist

Overall, I think Mao Zedong is a greater man than Jesus Christ. I don’t understand why many Jesus-believers want the entire human race to worship Jesus, I think Jesus is nothing but a tribal leader. I think there are more reasons to worship Mao Zedong than Jesus Christ. Of course I don’t believe in worshipping anyone, I think everyone is equal and human.

哈哈

@Merp: Americans disparage “Asians” all the time and get away with it.

Examples, please.

October 22, 2009 @ 9:30 am | Comment

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/racerelations/videos.htm

I’m not sure if this vid will work outside of Australia, but if it does – cringe and enjoy.

October 22, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Comment

Math, what can I say? Mao is greater than Jesus because he boosted China’s population to the point that many Chinese couples can only have one child, leading to all sorts of social delights like forced abortion and infanticide. What would we have done without Mao?

October 22, 2009 @ 11:02 am | Comment

I should clarify my request to Merp for examples. I know of plenty of examples of “Asians” (why the inverted commas, Merp?) being disparaged – I’m from Australia, we had Pauline Hanson, John Howard and the White Australia Policy – but Alex, in his comment, provided the “Foreigner City” example… Merp, please do the same (modern examples, not 1896 or 1968, please. Examples of toilets shaped like the rear ends of Asian girls will strengthen your case).

October 22, 2009 @ 11:43 am | Comment

Instead of tiny city that no one hears about, they spend millions of dollars every year broadcasting racist, anti-”Asian” messages via mass media.

I put it in quotes because Asian isn’t a race and is idiotic as an ethnonym.

October 22, 2009 @ 11:50 am | Comment

Instead of tiny city that no one hears about, they spend millions of dollars every year broadcasting racist, anti-”Asian” messages via mass media.

I don’t disagree, examples….

I put it in quotes because Asian isn’t a race and is idiotic as an ethnonym.

True (thank you, anthropology and geography)… and?…

October 22, 2009 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Don’t be silly, there are examples you can find of “Asian” “American” groups complaining about how Hollywood broadcasts culturally illiterate, racist garbage all over international airwaves.

October 22, 2009 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

I’m sort of conflicted about it, but in the end, I sort of agree with Key. If the people involved are truly as happy as the article portrays them to be, what right do we have to judge? For many, its probably a lot better than what they’re doing at home. Okay, granted the name is a little crass, but calling this a “freak show”?!? I don’t know…It’s dwarfs singing and dancing and generally performing. How different is this from China’s disabled performer’s troupe “My Dream” show? That features people who are put on stage because they don’t look like everyone else, but those performers have made more than most Chinese disabled people could dream of and have traveled around the world, typically their performances are met with great reviews. Yes, this kind of makes me feel skeezy, but at the same time, where do you draw the line between “art”/celebrating differences and “freak show”?

October 25, 2009 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

“Math”, you make me sick!!!!! To even think of comparing our Savior to someone like “Mao” is a disgusting thought! And by the way, “twisted”, where did YOU get the idea that Jesus Christ didn’t exist? READ THE BIBLE, before stating something that you obviously know nothing about!

March 6, 2010 @ 12:25 am | Comment

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