Silly Chinese. In America, the rich don't go to prison at all.
I find this very hard to believe.
I'll file this under slightly plausible, but highly unlikely. My reasons:
1.) All these people that are suspected of using doubles are high-profile cases where they had been set up for a fall from the very beginning by the government. Such a scheme would require collusion from the government itself, and the government wants them to suffer.
2.) In a nation of over 10^9 people the odds of a double for yourself existing are high, but there is no good way to find a double for yourself, at least while keeping it quiet and secret.
Maybe for some minted princeling who killed someone drink-driving.Of course, they would only be going to jail in the first place if the case outraged web users and blew up online, otherwise their rich daddy would buy them out of trouble or into a nominal/light sentence.
But make no mistake, Bo is going down and there is no way they will let a doppelganger serve his time - as the reason they want him in jail and out of the picture is that he is a political rival to the current leadership and thus a threat.
I'm sure his many followers hope that he does a Deng XP-style comeback from prison and political exile - but it is unlikely. If he is very lucky he will get a cushy house arrest until his natural death, like Zhao Ziyang did after Tiananmen - they even used to let him out once a week to play golf.
What if the government actually only wants them to disappear? If there's someone serving time for them, they aren't a risk as there's no way they can be seen in public again.
If you look like a rich guy who is facing jail, you might want to be found in order to secure a steady income for yourself and your family.
Andy Warhol used to use the same tactic so he could collect speaking fees without actually having to show up. ("In the future, everyone will be infamous for 15-years-to-life?")
See, I'm not racist! Even Chinese people can't tell themselves apart! /s
This whole thing seems somewhat implausible, but not impossible, especially with a few well placed bribes. I can even see the appeal for the guy who goes to jail. Presumably he has no skills and is looking at some menial low wage job but instead can get a bigger paycheck for his family plus state provided housing for a couple of years. Besides, the living conditions probably aren't that different than working at Foxconn.
If true, I doubt it is limited just to China. I still suspect Ken Lay is sunning in Belize while his body double rots in the ground. Ditto some of the other mooks who robbed us all blind for a decade or so.
One of the statistics the article gives underestimates the scale of the wealth disparity in China:
The nation’s “1 percent” controls more than half of its wealth, a chasm right up there with leading capitalist nations.
According to the WSJ:
According to the (Hunan) report, millionaire households account for 1/10th of 1 percent of the total number of households in China, but possess 41.4 percent of the country’s total wealth. In the U.S. the top 1 percent own a third of the wealth. (At America’s inequality peak — 1929 — the top 1 percent controlled about 48 percent of the wealth.)
This Slate article claims that the practice of "ding zui" was well known in imperial China:
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.” Supposedly, the going rate in 1848 for a replacement convict was 17 pounds, which would come to roughly $2,000 in present-day dollars.
I'd have to agree with some of the other commenters in their skepticism though; the Chinese authorities tend to use more advanced identification techniques than 'saying you're Gu Kai Lai', so it's unlikely that she could get away with a body double that easily. How about this theory to add some fuel to the conspiracy fire: What if the Communist Party were actually the ones who provided the body double, as they wanted a docile defendant in the dock?
The one on the left is from the trial, and the one on the right was from pre-trial press reports. Supposed to be the same person.
It's like identity theft... in reverse!
I believe there have been cases where this has been documented, but, as has been mentioned already, those are just when one of the elite kills or rapes a peon and can't avoid the publicity. I can't imagine that they'd let people who got caught up in a purge, and were being tried as a result of a power struggle within the party, get away with that. If those two pictures of Gu Kailai are of different people, it's because she's not in good enough health to drag into a courtroom for a show trial, not because they're letting her off the hook.
Slate has an article on this
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2012/08/gu_kailai_trial_chinese_netizens_believe_that_bo_xilai_s_wife_has_hired_a_body_double_to_represent_her_in_court_and_possibly_serve_her_time_in_prison_.single.html "Double Trouble in China Gu Kailai was convicted of murder.
This reminds me of a story from Hornby Island (off the west coast of BC)
Back in the 20s there was a Chinese entrepreneur who ran a produce business on the island and regularly he would send his vegetables and produce to market in Victoria. But his real income was from smuggling alcohol to the US. (I think BC had a short period of prohibition) He was caught and received a jail sentence. Years later the constable that caught him ran into him and told him he felt bad that he had to serve time and the Chinese fellow replied, that it was ok - he got one of his brothers to serve the time for him since he was needed to run his business and he was sure that the white folks wouldnt tell the difference. (quoting from memory - History of Hornby Island)
Reminds me of the people during the civil war who would hire others to take their place in the draft.
I don't know whether Gu Kalai hired a body double or not (although there's some online speculation in China over that question), and I don't know about the use of body doubles in general. But it is possible (although illegal) for perpetrators of crimes to attempt avoidance of punishment by finding someone else to take the blame for the illegal act. There's a term for this in Chinese (dingzui - 顶罪), which means to take the blame for someone else's crime (or other action).
Here's a short article (in Chinese) on the website China Law Info (a site established by Peking University in association with its Legal Information Center) about the practice with relation to traffic accidents. It's written by a member of a country level judicial committee of the People's Court.
The fact that this issue comes up sometimes in legal journals (you can find other articles on the issue by searching for 顶罪) suggests that i) people try this on, ii) the judiciary is at least sometimes aware that they do so, and iii) the courts are seeking ways to deal with it (e.g., the charges that should be brought against both parties involved in this illegal act).