A bored housewife has apologised after she was exposed as the author of thousands of fake Wikipedia entries she had been creating for a decade.
The Chinese author – identified as ‘Zhe mao’ – used numerous fake accounts to contribute to the Chinese version of the online encyclopedia.
During her 10-year scam, she wrote millions of words and even created fake scholarly articles to validate her entries.
She became a renowned expert in 15th-century Russian history – despite knowing nothing about it – and was celebrated as a world authority.
Her downfall came, though, when a fantasy author began researching some of her entries looking for inspiration for a novel.
Writer Yifan was fascinated by her entries over a huge silver mine in Kashin which provoked a bloody 180-year conflict.
The entry had said precious metals had first been discovered by Russian peasants in 1344 and the mine had employed more than 30,000 slaves and 10,000 freemen.
The entry even went into the geological composition of the soil, the layout of the mine, and even the refining process.
Yifan – who believed he had found a great subject for a novel – tried to go deeper than the Wikipedia entry but was baffled when he drew a blank.
It eventually emerged that there had never been either a mine or a war and he tipped off Wikipedia.
An investigation found that Zhe mao had made changes and additions more than 4,800 times on 206 entries to create a vast fake history of medieval Russia.
Some of the fake entries were so deep that she even went into the geology of the soil around the fake mine and its layout.
The fraud is said to be one of the largest hoaxes in the history of the online encyclopedia.
An investigation by Wikipedia found that as a contributor she had used at least four “puppet accounts” to falsify the history of Qing Dynasty China and the history of Russia since 2010.
Each of the four accounts has now been banned from Chinese Wikipedia and the additions removed.
To gain credibility Zhe mao had claimed to be the daughter of a diplomat stationed in Russia.
She also said she had a degree in Russian history and had become a Russian citizen after marrying a Russian national.
In reality, though, she was a bored housewife with no specialist knowledge of Russia who did not even have a school leaving certificate.
She began her fictional history creations in 2010, creating articles with false stories related to the real figure of Heshen, a notoriously corrupt Qing Dynasty official.
She then turned her attention to Russian history in 2012, editing existing articles on Czar Alexander I of Russia and from 2019 onwards was making fake entries on an almost daily basis.
From her first creations, she gradually spread fabricated stories throughout Chinese Wikipedia’s coverage of Russian history. She used a real, and often bloody, rivalry between the two early Slavic states as a basis for an elaborate fiction, mixing research with fantasy, and used the respect she earned to comment in the real world on events in Russia today – condemning for example the war in Ukraine.
Zhe mao later published an apology letter on her English Wikipedia account, writing that her motivation was to learn about history.
She also confessed that she is in fact a full-time housewife with only a high-school degree who speaks neither English nor Russian.
In her apology where she added that she had no real friends and a husband that was often away she added that she would now stop making up fake news and try and learn a proper craft so she can get a real job.