'Fairy tale's' end: Life beyond the Kingdom of the Little People

Story highlights

  • The Kingdom of Little People in China employs about 100 people of short stature
  • The park offers employment to people shorter than 130 centimeters, about 4 feet

(CNN)Huang Xuejing broke away from the kingdom he once called home six years ago. At just 130 centimeters -- a little over 4 feet -- Huang's height permitted him entry into the kingdom in 2009.

His physical growth was limited when he injured his spine in a fall at age 8. Having been warned that surgery to restart his growth could lead to paralysis, his family chose to not take the risk.
After studying graphic design at a school for the disabled in China, Huang found his talents to be of use in the Kingdom of the Little People, a small theme park where about 100 people of short stature, including some with dwarfism, live and perform dances and songs for tourists each day.
    The maximum height for workers there is 130 centimeters, meaning Huang just made the cut. He soon found himself working behind the scenes as a manager.
    But life wasn't quite what he had been promised.

    Exploring the kingdom

    An hour's drive east of the city of Kunming in southwest China, the park has been branded a disgrace by some overseas, stoking debate about the treatment of people with disabilities in China.
    The US-based dwarfism support group Little People of America highlight that opinions vary about whether dwarfism/short stature is actually a disability and believe the kingdom was comparable to a zoo.
    The kingdom is billed as a tourist attraction, by its owner, real estate mogul Chen Mingjing. Now, seven years after opening its doors, the kingdom remains open, but few tourists seem to be buying into the fairy tale. Just 15 customers, mainly families with young children, could be counted on one recent day, most of them Chinese.
    After paying the 100 yuan ($15) entry fee, customers sit in front of the main stage to watch the morning performances. On this day, 30 performers in pink and red coats dance while a "king" character, complete with a cloak and crown, swans around regally. Shortly afterward, an all-female dance team performed a Bollywood-style routine.
    The tone is cute and quirky, with a karaoke feel to the songs sung between dance routines. Another regular performance involves male dancers dressed in female ballerina outfits and pirouetting to "Swan Lake" music.
    It's like any other show performed in jest, but with a much shorter cast.

    Life in -- and out of -- the kingdom

    Huang joined the work force in the theme park after having been enticed by its owner, Chen, who was impressed by Huang's abilities and sold him his dream for the kingdom, Huang said.
    "He was very keen and sincere," Huang said in his small but impeccably tidy studio apartment in central Kunming. "He explained that he wanted to make the kingdom the biggest in the world."