In one of the most egregious forgeries on the open-source platform, a Chinese lady posing as a historian spent years inventing fictitious governments, battles, and nobility on Chinese Wikipedia. The swindle was discovered last month by Chinese author Yifan, who was conducting research for a book when he came across an article about the Kashin silver mine.
According to Wikipedia, the mine, which was discovered by Russian peasants in 1344, employed over 40,000 slaves and freedmen and was a significant source of income for the Russian principality of Tver in the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as succeeding regimes. The essay went into great detail about the mine’s construction, the geological makeup of the soil, and even the refining process.
Yifan thought he’d found interesting material for a book. He had no idea he had stumbled upon an entire fictional universe created by a user known as Zhemao. Since 2019, she has published 206 entries on Chinese Wikipedia, each one fusing reality and fiction in a sophisticated strategy that went unnoticed for years and tested the limits of crowdsourced platforms’ ability to weed out dishonest users.
Yifan was tipped off when he looked into the sources Zhemao provided and ran the silver mine story by Russian speakers, only to find that the pages or editions of the books she claimed did not exist. Her lengthy entries on ancient Slavic wars, which could not be found in Russian historical records, were also criticized by those he contacted. The scope of the scam became clear after a group of volunteer editors and other Wikipedians, including Yip, went through her prior contributions to over 300 articles.