China’s Rich Can Hire Body Doubles to Serve Their Prison Time

As shocking as it may sound the practice of hiring body doubles to serve jail time in the place of rich and powerful individuals is well-documented in China. So if you thought your country’s legal system was corrupt, think again.

Just two days ago I wrote a post about another bizarre job available in China – hiring white guys to pose as employees or business partners – but that’s nothing compared to the “profession” you’re about to discover. Apparently, China’s wealthy can get away with just about anything, even serving jail time, as long as they’re willing to part with a small fraction of their fortune. Sure, that’s not very surprising, considering even in some Western countries where the legal system is considered impartial, the rich and famous are often shown leniency. Only in China, the so-called “1%” has a different way of dealing with unpleasant situations, like serving time in prison. Instead of wasting their time behind bars, they just pay stand-ins who, for the right sum are willing to take their place. Yes, apparently that’s possible.

Slate.com recently wrote an article about this bizarre practice of hiring body-doubles for jail time, which according to a police officer in central China is “not common but not rare either.” Although this kind of “job” has apparently been around for hundreds of years, it became a more popular subject in 2009, when multiple cases of hired stand-ins were discovered and discussed online. A hospital president who caused a deadly traffic accident hired an employee’s father to stand-in for him in jail. In another case, a man driving without a license who caused the death of a motorcyclist hired someone to take the blame for just $8,000, and the owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year, hired a poor man making his living digging through the rubble to be his body double in court and promised him $31 for each day spent in prison. In fact, the practice has become so popular that the Chinese even found a name for it – ding zui. “Ding” means substitute and “zui” means crime, so “substitute criminal”.

This kind of “replacement convicts” have apparently been a part of Chinese culture for centuries, and it was one of the first things visiting Westerners reported about the country’s legal system. In 1899, Ernest Alabaster, a scholar of Chinese criminal law, wrote that courts “permitted” the real offenders to hire substitutes, and that such things “frequently happen”.In 1895, Taiwan missionary George Mackay also described the practice noting that “It was an open secret that these men had nothing to do with the case, but were bribed to wear the cangue for six weeks.” Incredibly enough, substitute criminals could even be hired for executions. After all, if a family was starving, wouldn’t parents accept this price knowing their children would be saved? Some imperial Chinese officers even admitted this sort of practice, and considered it effective. In their view, the real criminal was punished by paying the market value for his crime, while the stand-in’s punishment frightened other criminals. So I guess, everybody was happy…

Hu Bin (right) and his alleged body double in court (left)

But it was the case of Hu Bin, a wealthy 20-year-old who killed a pedestrian while drag racing on the streets of Hangzhou that really drew attention to the phenomenon known  as ding zui. Photos of Hu Bin and his rich friends smoking and laughing while waiting for the police to arrive on scene caused a public outrage, but it was nothing compared to the allegation that the man who appeared in court and served the three-year sentence wasn’t Hu, but a paid body double. Photos of the man arrested on scene and the one who appeared in court were compared by Chinese netizens, and the vast majority agreed it was not the same person. While it was never proven Hu Bin hired a body double to take his place in jail, the lenient sentence of only 3 years for killing a person is bizarre enough, considering others involved in similar accidents were sentenced to death.

Gu Kailai (right) and her alleged body double in court (left)

The latest alleged case of hired body double involved Gu Kailai, the Chinese woman convicted of the murder of Neil Heywood. According to rumors on social networks, she hired a woman to serve her suspended death sentence.


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