Ding Zui: Substitute Criminals in China

In China, the rich and powerful can hire body doubles to do their prison time for them. Geoffrey Sant reports for Slate:

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.”

What’s more:

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. This 1883 report from the Board of Punishments demanded an inquiry into how a youth named Wang Wen-shu “was wrongly convicted” and “was on the point of being executed as a substitute for one Hu T’ian, whose alias he was falsely declared to be.” 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?

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.

Pretty wild.

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(hat tip: @SteveSilberman)

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