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?