Shortly before Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, was sentenced to a suspended death sentence on Monday, The Financial Times became the latest news organization to entertain the theory that the woman shown in the trial (above left) wasn't Gu, but a look-alike. As The FT's Kathrine Hille reports: "Two security experts familiar with facial recognition software said the person shown in state television footage of the courtroom was not Ms Gu." That sounds shocking, but please read that again. Notice how Hille doesn't say the unnamed experts used facial recognition software to determine if the woman in the trial photos wan't Gu, but rather that these two people simply expressed their opinion that that was the case.
Like the rest of the speculation about the impostor rumor, which has bubbled up through the Chinese internet since Gu was convicted 10 days ago, it's tantalizing but still frustratingly vague. True, the woman in the photos of the trial doesn't look exactly like like the earlier photos of Gu Kailai. She's noticeably chubbier, and her nose and chin are less pointy. There's also the difference in their hairstyles. (We don't know when the photo on the right was taken, so it's hard to know exactly what Gu looked like at the time of her arrest.) But the persistence of the rumor that it wasn't Gu, but a body double, who stood trial for the murder of Heywood, speaks more to the atmosphere of mistrust about the Chinese justice system than it does about the actual evidence of a conspiracy. There's little evidence outside of the juxtaposed photos of Gu before and during the trial, but there is precedent for a body-double scam in China. As Slate's Geoffrey Sant reported earlier this month, it's not uncommon for members of China's moneyed class to hire body doubles to serve their prison time for them. That's not impossible in Gu's case, but so far all we have to support the notion is persistant, tantalizing, but ultimately unsupported speculation.