If you thought the U.S. legal system was corrupt, you need to read this. A recent piece in Slate reveals the process by which China’s rich and powerful time and again avoid serving their prison sentences: hiring body doubles to do it for them. Geoffrey Sant explains this phenomenon, which was first brought to public attention when a wealthy 20-year-old who killed a pedestrian while drag racing in Hangzhou, China in 2009 received only three years in prison, while many drunk drivers receive the death penalty for similar crimes. In addition to the unusually lenient sentence, many suspect that the man who drove the car is not the same man who went to court and served out the prison sentence. Sant writes,
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.”
The root of China’s corruption lies in its disparate wealth distribution. According to Sant, the top 0.1% controls over half of the nation’s wealth—far more than that group does in the United States, where the top 1% controls around 40% of wealth. Those with money are then so disproportionately wealthy and powerful that they can essentially buy their way out of serving time for their crimes by hiring body doubles for meager sums. Sant writes,
“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.”
While the masses sacrifice personal freedom for economic prosperity, China’s elites can have their cake and eat it too with near impunity.