A rumor that spread throughout China in 1999 claimed that the United Nations would grant all babies born at midnight at the beginning of the millennium would be granted a special status as global citizens. These lucky global citizens would be granted an annual stipend of $20,000 and the ability to travel to any country without a visa. This rumor no doubt contributed to the baby boom in China where mothers, like many in Australia, New Zeland, and the Pacific islands, were competing to time their child’s birth as close to the oncoming millennium as possible.

The problem is that the rumor was, of course, a hoax. But this rumor can be traced back to a single source: a former factory worker named Chen Jun. Some publications labeled him one of the worst fraudsters of the century.

It all started with an April Fool’s Day contest in the newspaper China Youth Daily. Chen invented the ludicrous millennium baby scenario and it was printed in the paper. Unfortunately, gullible editors for other publications printed the same story as fact, and just as gullible readers fell for it.

Chen tried to fight the spread of the rumor by giving interviews explaining that he just made it all up, to no avail. When he was denounced as a fraudster, he sued to clear his name, citing mental anguish and emotional stress, not to mention back pay because he lost his job. Apparently you can sue for that even in China. A Nanking court just awarded him about $20,000 in damages.

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