If you were drafted during the U.S. Civil War, it was possible in some places to hire someone to go in your place. As far as I know that practice in America began and ended with the War Between The States.
China may have taken this a step further, there has been a flurry of accusations that some wealthy criminals are hiring ‘body doubles’ to do their time for them. (Actually, I found more interesting that this was a common practice in Imperial China, more below.) All this from Slate‘s ‘Double Jeopardy’ :
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.
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.”
Here a few examples:
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.
But, using an actual body-double look-alike in a high profile case is getting tougher:
Nevertheless, this “trick” is becoming increasingly difficult to pull off thanks to the Internet. Chinese netizens can easily circulate photos to compare the image of an alleged perpetrator with the person who shows up in court. In fact, that happened in the case of Hu Bin, the drag racer who killed a pedestrian. Here are posted comparison photographs of Hu in his car after the accident and the man who appeared and reported to be Hu in the courtroom, with the simple questions: “Is this the same fucking person???? Is all of China blind?”
The officer in charge of Mr. Hu’s case says there was probably corruption (because of the relatively light three-year sentence. But, he has no doubt the right ‘Mr. Hu’ is in prision:
“This case is not one of ding zui. That family has only a moderate amount of wealth, and they don’t have any political power. The photos of the man in the car and in the court look like different people, but it’s just the camera angle and lighting,…”
Thinking of ancient Rome’s Terrance, who wrote, ‘Nothing human is foreign to me,’ I have reached the point where ‘Nothing that happens in China today surprises me.’ That said, I was surprised (and probably shouldn’t have been) that all of this was common in Imperial China:
“Replacement convicts” are not new. For centuries, the use of criminal substitutes was among the first things Westerners would mention when discussing China’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, have for long happened, and—notwithstanding Imperial decrees to the contrary—will, under the system, always happen…..”
Incredibly, substitutes could be hired even for executions. Nineteenth-century traveler Julius Berncastle, the Qing Dynasty author De Fu, and the legal scholar John Bruce Norton each described substitute executions as regular events…. T. T. Meadows, the British diplomat who convinced Western nations to copy China’s system of civil-service exams, argued that the phenomenon of substitute executions was not as surprising as it might seem. If a family is starving, wouldn’t many parents accept execution in exchange for enough money to save their children?
Equally interesting is the justification:
Some imperial Chinese officials who admitted to the use of substitute criminals justified its effectiveness. After all, the real criminal was punished by paying out the market value of his crime, while the stand-in’s punishment intimidated other criminals, keeping the overall crime rate low. In other words, a “cap-and-trade” policy for crime.
Part of these particular ‘cap-and-trade’ deals no doubt included ‘red envelopes’ for the participating officials.
If you are of a certain age or just a fan of retro TV crime shows, you know the theme song of Baretta, where Sammy Davis, Jr. sings, ‘Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.’
For China, you might need to adjust those lyrics.