The Chinese real-life avatars spending "time" in prison.

It is surprisingly common, in China at least, for the wealthy to hire scapegoats to confess to unfavorable crimes. More unbelievable, though, is the practice of hiring lookalikes to serve the upper class’s prison sentences. Geoffrey Sant over at Slate has published an excellent article detailing the culture and history of these criminal surrogates.

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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 zuiDing means “substitute,” and zui means “crime”; in other words, “substitute criminal.”

It’s all part of playing the game that is China’s legal system. There are records of this rule-bending as early as the 1800s, when even substitute executions weren’t out of the question. But apparently the body doubles aren’t always great doppelgängers, so the Internet has helped a great deal in revealing the corruption at work.