Chinese housewife undermined Wikipedia with web of false facts over a decade

It was recently uncovered that a Chinese woman spent over a decade falsifying over 200 Chinese Wikipedia articles on Russian history in an elaborate hoax. The user, known as Zhemao, began translating work from Russian to Chinese, but then began “blindly” making up information that she couldn’t translate, citing non-existent books and non-existent page numbers from real books.

Since at least January 17, 2010, Zhemao authored several million words on fake Russian history on Wikipedia, creating 206 articles and contributing to hundreds more.

A Chinese fantasy novelist known as Yifan made the discovery while he was browsing Wikipedia looking for inspiration for his next book. Yifan came across an entry of Zhemao’s called the “Kashen Silver Mine” and could not verify its validity. The rest unraveled from there when a team of Chinese Wikipedia users combed through her elaborate, lengthy contributions, where she had interwoven facts with invented details. One of her longest articles was the length of a short novel.

Chinese Wikipedian author John Yip was contacted by VICE World News for comment, saying “The content she wrote is of high quality and the entries were interconnected, creating a system that can exist on its own. Zhemao single-handedly invented a new way to undermine Wikipedia.”

To appear more credible, Zhemao invented a persona whose online profile said that she was the daughter of a Chinese diplomat stationed in Russia who was married to a Russian man. She also listed fake academic credentials, including a doctoral degree in world history from Moscow State University.

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