The history of Russia is changed not only by propaganda, but also by “volunteers” in other countries. A Chinese housewife, pretending to be a scientist, spent years creating fake posts on the Chinese Wikipedia about Russian medieval history. This is reported by Vice.
Under the pseudonym Zhemao, the woman has written 206 articles since 2019, in which she skillfully combined facts with fiction and remained unnoticed. She invented fictitious states, battles, and aristocrats, which eventually became one of the biggest hoaxes on the platform.
The fraud was exposed last month by the Chinese writer Yifan. He was looking for a book on the resource and came across an article about the Kashin silver mine. The article described in sufficient detail the history of the opening of the mine by Russian peasants in 1344, its development, the geological composition of the soil, the structure of the mine and even the processing details.
Yifan thought he had found interesting material for his book. The first suspicions arose when the story about the mine was reviewed by Russian-speakers and when among the references there were no pages or versions of the books cited by the author. In Russian historical sources, there were also no records of ancient conflicts between Slavic states, about which Zhemao wrote extensive articles.
“Her entries appeared comprehensive, with proper citations, but some were made up, while others had page numbers that did not add up,” says the writer.
A review by editors and volunteers revealed that the author has contributed to nearly 300 articles. One of the longest fake materials was almost as long as The Great Gatsby and contained a map that the author also made. Other material turned out to be so believable that it was translated into other languages, including English and Russian.
“When surveying new content, we only check whether it is blatant plagiarism and if it has proper sources. She understood the format of Wikipedia very well and provided sources that were very difficult to verify,” says one of Wikipedia’s volunteer editors.
Zhemao forged not only articles, but also her identity. She was called the daughter of a Chinese diplomat who married a Russian and holds a doctorate in world history from Moscow State University. Recently, she even published a petition allegedly signed by her husband against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Also, the author had at least four alternative accounts that created the illusion of support.
“I thought she was a rare talent, as the site lacked writers knowledgeable in medieval Russia,” says Eric Liu, who has been with Wikipedia since 2015. Earlier this year, he awarded Zhemao a Wikipedia star to acknowledge her contributions.
As punishment, Zhemao’s account and related accounts were permanently banned. Most of her articles have been removed, others are still being reviewed. The identity of the author became known from a message that she posted on her page. In it, she explained that she speaks neither English nor Russian, and is a housewife with only a high school degree.
According to her, the hoax began with an attempt to understand scientific articles automatically translated into Chinese. She filled in the gaps in the translation with her own imagination. Soon it turned into tens of thousands of characters, which the woman was sorry to delete.
“As they say, to protect a lie, you have to tell more lies,” the author explained on her page.
Alternative accounts were her imaginary friends because the woman was bored and lonely. Her husband spent most of his time away from home, and she had no friends. The author promised that in the future she would work conscientiously and not engage in “senseless things”.