One of the most interesting things web 2.0 has given me is a healthy disrespect for all things pretending to be authoritative.

And Wikipedia has been one of my most reliable professors.

I’m not sure where the Zhang Yimou Exploit came from. Possibly the People’s Liberation Army. If it was, I have to hand it to them — because the results were undeniably brilliant. And also very funny.

I don’t remember why or when I added Zhang Yimou to my Watchlist. In Wikipedia Land, if you take an interest in an article, and you want to watch it as it grows or stumbles, you can ask to be notified when anything changes.

You don’t want to do this if you are battling a bzillion Sales & Marketing “notifications”, but if you’re interested in metacognition, I urge you to consider it a must.

The Zhang Yimou Exploit is just one example of how priceless engagement with Wikipedia can be.

Unsubscribe to every incoming pitch you might originally have thought it made sense to juggle, and choose your Wikipedia articles judiciously.

In so doing, you will be signing up for the Wikipedia National Guard – not to be confused with the Wikipedia Police or Career Wikipedians.

Mostly I’m a Medieval Studies wonk, but Independent Cinema is also very high on my list.

It was as a member of the Wikipedia National Guard that I received notice that someone had changed Wikipedia’s record of Zhang Yimou’s birth date.

From early-April 1950 to mid-November 1951.

As per the job description, I thought, “wait, what?” and then ran a google because you never know what will turn up.


I hit pay dirt.

Sometimes that happens.

For whatever reason, maybe she got a little note from the PLA, Zhang Yimou’s wife posted the event of her husband’s 65th birthday on her microblog (2 April 2015) — complete with a picture of the two of them smiling for the camera from behind a fabulous cake.

Zhang Yimou and wife Chen Ting
Zhang Yimou’s wife Chen Ting posted a heartwarming post on her micro-blog account with photos showing Zhang, Chen and one of their children celebrating together. [Photo: Sina Weibo]
I had to do a little math, but the date turned out to be 2 April 1950.

So I undid the edit.

And then someone undid my undo.

So we regrouped to the talk page.

Even if you’re not going to sign up for the Wikipedia National Guard, I highly recommend the talk pages. Many articles don’t boast a lot of talk page content, especially in the international editions, but the English language talk pages are rife with drama.

And here we come to a fourth very important job description at The Wiki – that of First Responder, and what we’re looking at here is my first encounter with a First Responder, FR1.

I’ve done some First Responding myself, but mostly I don’t have the backbone for it. It’s a tough job and hats off to the posse who do it as a way of life.

FR1 had determined that, on 24 December of the previous year (2016), an Unaccountable — someone with an unknown IP address who either didn’t have an account, or hadn’t bothered to login — had changed Zhang Yimou’s birth date to what turned out to be the accurate one (if Zhang Yimou’s wife and her husband are to be believed (you must, of course, use your own judgement)).

Perhaps FR1 hadn’t done a google – perhaps because they’d learned that Wikipedia is a better source of intel and, take it from a career news aggregator, that’s very often the case. But even if they had, FR1’s google filter bubble could easily have disappeared the .cn article.

These things happen.

Believe it or not, it’s a Feature.

It’s also true that stalwart Wikipedians have frequently to deal with random acts of vandalism from people just goofing around.

Welcome to The Matrix.

We agreed that Zhang Yimou’s wife was probably a reliable source and that the photo was unlikely to have been photoshopped by some prankster.

You would think that would have been that.


Not for a career News Aggregator with a background in Technical Due Diligence.

Besides, I have a worldclass State Public Library just down the street.

You can call, but whoever answers will tell you to send an email and make sure you mention and prove that you are a state resident or your request will very likely get “deprioritized”.

From: Yours Truly
Sent: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 2:29 PM
To: Ask The State Public Library
Subject: Zhang Yimou Birthdate


I am a Wikipedia editor living and working in Myvillage, Yourstate.

The imdb and more than one online reference at my Village Public Library is listing Zhang Yimou’s birthday as November 14, 1951 – in some cases with a “?” next to the November date entry.

The authorized government portal site to China,, published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Beijing, clearly states that his birthday is April 2, 1950. They say they’re getting from Zhang’s wife’s micro-blog and, sure enough, there’s a picture to accompany the announcement.

Nevertheless, I have promised the Wiki editing community that I would get a second opinion from a book source, ideally the Marquis Who’s Who — which I have been advised you have and which, unfortunately, the Village Public Library does not.

Can you check for me, please? I suspect it’s just some kids having “fun”, but Wikipedia likes to be on top of such things — especially as Google gets its quick reference data from us.

Thank you,

Yours Truly
Mytown, Ourstate, Myzipcode

My Phone Number

My friends, within 48 hours I got what can only be described as a Spectacular Report.

Thursday, July 27, 2017 9:13 AM

Dear Yours Truly,

The 2016 Marquis Who’s Who in the World gives Zhang Yimou’s date of birth as 11-14-1951. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers gives 11-14-1950. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and the Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema only give a year of birth, but both give 1951. The introduction to Zhang Yimou: Interviews also gives the 11-14-1951 date, citing, apparently, Berry’s Perspectives on Chinese Cinema. Most of the reference works to which the State Public Library offers electronic access reproduce the 11-14-1951 date, but some express uncertainty by giving the year as 1950/1951.

The ideal source if extant would be some kind of official birth record; see this article and the attached entry from the 2009 International Vital Records Handbook for some historical information and recommendations for pursuing Chinese vital records.

Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for contacting the State Public Library.


Supercool Librarian

Research Services Department
State Public Library
Street Address
City, State Zipcode

All of the Grand Old Sources at the State Public Library were giving the hacked date.

The moral of the story is: Never underestimate the power and importance of a your local library and its staff.


Library Science is not a part-time job and it’s not a job for slackers. There’s a reason we pay good money for that stuff.

Why we don’t pay our Wikipedia Staff, at least in Bitcoin, is anybody’s guess. For one thing, it’s a world-class opportunity to test drive some sort of massive Next Economy breakthrough.

I will now attempt to contact Shanghai.

Stay tuned.

Zhang Yimou
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