Western sources tend to convey the very basic facts about this interesting place and people situated in Zizhong County area of Southern Sichuan province, whilst continuing the usual disinformation about Mainland China. This place is not ‘shut off’ to the outside world, and Westerners are not ‘banned’ from visiting it. However, the elderly people who live in Bright Light Temple Village (明阳寺村 – Ming Yang Si Cun), are ‘protected’ citizens of the People’s Republic of China (due to their disability), are not entertainment for curious foreigners, and have a right to privacy to pursue their lives. The information in this article is conveyed by the Headman of the village – Luo Deshan (羅德山).
In the 1930’s, when the standard of living was very poor in the area, local people gave birth to a generation of children who stopped growing at around 4 years old – reaching just 90cm in height. These children were born to otherwise healthy adults with no history of dwarfism within their families. The children concerned suddenly felt tremendous pain in their hips and leg joints and suddenly stopped physically growing in height (although the body matured as usual and psychological capacity generally remained unhindered). Although conventional dwarfism sufferers tend not to live long lives, these people in Ming Yang Temple Village have lived into their 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s – implying that the condition might have a by-product of increasing longevity.
Today, out of the 120 inhabitants, around 80 elderly and middle-aged people stand between 80cm – 90cm tall, whilst their off-spring have become steadily taller at around 1.4m – 1.6m. Between the 1930’s and 1954, local inhabitants experienced severe pain in their ankles, knees and pelvic girdle. After this date, the recurrence of these symptoms ceased, only to re-emerge during the 1960’s and 1970’s (amongst adolescence). The incidence of Dwarfism has steadily diminished into the 21st century. After Liberation in 1949, the Government of China sent medical and welfare experts to the area, and had a purpose-built nursing home opened. Even with this help, life can still be hard for short people. Much of the furniture and utensils they use are of ordinary size and create ongoing difficulties, but the people manage and have a good attitude to life. Many of these people get on with their lives and even visit local markets outside their area.
In January 2008, Zizhong County Health Bureau commissioned the County People’s Hospital to carry out an x-ray examination of the dwarves in the Ming Yang Temple Village. The results showed that the synovial joints between the head of the femur cones and the pelvic girdle had disappeared as the bones had ‘fused’ together causing immobility and great pain. Although something similar can happen in very old people (as ‘osteoarthritis’), this problem had occurred in young children. The Sichuan Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Epidemics has put forward the idea that during the 1920’s and 1930’s the Southern Sichuan area experienced an unusually high degree of rain during the autumn harvest time. Due to the poor living conditions of the people at that time, the stored wheat and sweet potato were extremely prone to mildew and this may have given birth to a fungus called Fusarium. When consumed in large amounts, this fungus inhibits the growth of cartilage. After Liberation in 1949, the Ming Yang Temple Village underwent a thorough redevelopment and today life is much better for the inhabitants. With continuous and improved living conditions, there has not been another outbreak of Dwarfism in the area.
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