Deep in the outskirts of Kunming, past the lake and nestled in the hills beside a butterfly sanctuary lies a kingdom of midgets and dwarfs from around China. It goes by the name of Dwarf Empire, and it attracts tourists from far and wide, eager to see the performances of small people. One can wander around the hobbit-like dwellings, chat and take photographs with the performers or snack sunflower seeds and play cards while waiting for one of the twice daily performances.
This is an attraction that would never be permitted in most of the politically correct world, but China writes its own rules, and the audience seems respectful and curious, rather than rude or mocking. There are scant employment opportunities for small people in China, and the conditions are not bad for the performers. Aside from the daily performances, they seem to have ample free time.
It’s a family event for Chinese tourists, with every age represented, babies and old folks alike. The show includes song and dance numbers, a seemingly minimal narrative structure, a world record holding tightrope walker, and magic tricks.
Offensive? While it is thoroughly weird, it doesn’t seem exploitative. The performers come of their own free will, and there is even a fairly high turnover rate. Some performers broke off and started their own much small group in another city, but the Dwarf Empire remains by far the largest in China.