If I were sitting in a bar and a guy wearing overalls sat down next to me and said with a Southern accent, “You know, in China, rich people hire body doubles to stand in for them at criminal trials,” I’d say “shut up, you racist prick. They don’t all look alike.”
At that point the apocryphal redneck would whip out a copy of Slate (on his iPad, cause print is dead) and say “Git R done” and order a cold domestic beer while I read the Slate piece and tried to pick up pieces of my shattered mind out of my gin and tonic.
Because in China, powerful and wealthy people do in fact hire body doubles. It’s not an urban legend. It goes down often enough that the police were willing to talk about it, anonymously of course.
This is wild stuff…
The Slate piece, written by Geoffrey Sant, tells us that the practice happens often enough in China that they have a word for it:
The practice of hiring “body doubles” or “stand-ins” is well-documented by official Chinese media. In 2009, a hospital president who caused a deadly traffic accident hired an employee’s father to “confess” and serve as his stand-in. A company chairman is currently charged with allegedly arranging criminal substitutes for the executives of two other companies. In another case, after hitting and killing a motorcyclist, a man driving without a license hired a substitute for roughly $8,000. The owner of a demolition company that illegally demolished a home earlier this year hired a destitute man, who made his living scavenging in the rubble of razed homes, and promised him $31 for each day the “body double” spent in jail. In China, the practice is so common that there is even a term for it: ding zui. Ding means “substitute,” and zui means “crime”; in other words, “substitute criminal.”
How freaking poor do you have to be where getting paid $31 a day to be in a Chinese jail represents an upgrade?
It seems to me that other Chinese officials, judges, and correctional officers, need to be complicit in this ding zui. Because, again, it’s not like all Chinese people actually look the same. There must be a lot of looking the other way regarding body doubles.
If Mitt Romney were here, he’d probably extol the virtues of the market. Why shouldn’t wealthy people take advantage of a loophole, right?
The ability to hire so-called substitute criminals is just one way in which China’s extreme upper crust are able to live by their own set of rules. While Occupy Wall Street grabbed attention for its attacks on the “1 percent,” in China, a much smaller fraction of the country controls an even greater amount of wealth. The top one-tenth of 1 percent in China controls close to half of the country’s riches. The children and relatives of China’s rulers, many of whom grew up together, form a thicket of mutually beneficial relationships, with many able to enrich themselves financially and, if necessary, gain protection from criminal allegations.
A police officer in central China agreed to discuss the phenomenon of “replacement convicts” with me so long as I didn’t refer to him by name. “America has the rule of law, but China has the rule of people,” the police officer told me. “If somebody is powerful, there’s a good chance they can make this happen. Spend some money and remain free.” According to the police officer, hired stand-ins are “not common but not rare either.” As examples, the officer listed several high-ranking mafia figures whose underlings serve time in their stead. The mafia cares for the substitute’s family and pays a bonus for the time served.
This just goes to show that there are a lot of things Americans take for granted about our justice system. Replacement Convicts might be a good movie (I’m thinking a near-future sci-fi thriller where Keanu Reeves plays a wealthy playboy type who accidentally murders a hooker, and then dupes Toby Maguire to into taking the fall for him. Then Maguire has to escape from prison with the help of the actually-not-dead hooker, Jessica Alba). But thankfully it’s not a real issue in American jurisprudence.
Double Jeopardy [Slate]