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    A “Chinese Borges” wrote millions of words of fake Russian history on Wikipedia for a decade.

    Jonny Diamond

    June 28, 2022, 10:35am

    For over a decade, a Chinese woman known as “Zhemao” created a massive, fantastical, and largely fictional alternate history of late Medieval Russia on Chinese Wikipedia, writing millions of words about entirely made-up political figures, massive (and fake) silver mines, and pivotal battles that never actually happened. She even went so far as to concoct details about things like currency and eating utensils.

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    Using four puppet accounts, Zhemao—who wrote in an apology via her English Wikipedia account that she was a housewife with a high school degree—created one of the largest hoaxes in the history of Wikipedia, earning her the online nickname, “Chinese Borges.” She went on to write that

    As the saying goes, in order to tell a lie, you must tell more lies. I was reluctant to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I wrote, but as a result, I wound up losing millions of words, and a circle of academic friends collapsed. The trouble I’ve caused is hard to make up for, so maybe a permanent ban is the only option. My current knowledge is not enough to make a living, so in the future I will learn a craft, work honestly, and not do nebulous things like this any more.

    Zhemao’s drama centered around an enormous silver mine known as Kashen, a flash point for political tensions between the “Princes of Tver” and the “Dukes of Moscow”—Kashen, though, never actually existed.

    A fantasy novelist called Yifan was one of the first Wikipedia users to notice something was off. Writing on an open platform Chinese site similar to Quora, he noted that:

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    Chinese Wikipedia entries that are more detailed than English Wikipedia and even Russian Wikipedia are all over the place. Characters that don’t exist in the English-Russian Wiki appear in the Chinese Wiki, and these characters are mixed together with real historical figures so that there’s no telling the real from the fake.

    Sadly (to me), most of Zhemao’s hundreds upon hundreds of fake entries have been deleted from Wikipedia—and so we are denied a chance to read the one, true, Great Internet Novel.

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