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Since opening its doors in 2009, Dwarf Empire has been a divisive subject. Critics are aganist at its mere existence and criticize it, while others admire it for providing employment where opportunities for disabled people are sparse.
Located in the outskirts of Kunming, Dwarf Empire is a mountainside theme park equipped with mushroom shaped castles and fairytale-like trimmings. Its employees - all dwarfs - are the main attraction. At regular intervals, dozens of the parks employees dress as medieval knights, powerful khans, butterflies and cooks, and perform slapstick sketches and dances.
The parks critics are plentiful, ranging from disabled rights groups to celebrities. Famous actor Warwick Davis, who is also a dwarf, expressed distaste after visiting the park as part of a hit UK TV series. Many in this camp argue that integration diminishes prejudice, while isolation reinforces it; many others wince at the thought of tourists ogling out of morbid curiosity at dwarfs in fancy dress.
Chen Mingjing, the park's creator and a self-made business and real estate mogul, views it differently, as do many of his employees. As far as Chen sees it, the stable employment, tailor-made accommodation and reasonable remuneration for the 100 dwarfs that the park currently employs is much better than 100 dwarfs eking out a living through odd jobs.
While life in Dwarf Empire remains far from idyllic, many employees say it offers them a sense of community where they are able to share the same challenges. For some, the feeling of being among equals outweighs the awkwardness and surreality of the performances.