Cheater's stocks in Hong Kong and on the Mainland

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Until three days ago when I read the following article in the South China Morning Post, I had never heard of this expression:

"Opinion: All you need to know about cheater’s stocks: its lures, its victims and the key opinion leaders" (Shirley Yam, 5/10/17)

She calls these stocks LAO QIAN GU in Chinese, but since I was not familiar with the expression, I was unable to think right away what characters she had in mind.

Perhaps she was transcribing lāoqián gǔ 捞钱股 ("fishing for money stocks").  The more I think about it, however, the more I suspect that this is merely the Mandarinization of some Cantonese term.

Yam's GU is certainly for gǔ 股 ("stocks")

My surmise is that her Mandarin LAO QIAN derives from Cantonese lou5cin1 老千 ("con artist").  In Cantonese we have such expressions as ceot1 lou5cin1 出老千 ("to cheat; to use fraud and manipulation").  So I guess that Yam's LAO QIAN GU is the Mandarin pronunciation of Cantonese lou5cin1 gu2 老千股 ("swindler's / con artist's stocks").

That's as far as I got by myself.  But I wanted to know more about the origins and implications of the term, so I asked several specialists on Cantonese.

First, Bob Bauer sent me the complete entry for lou5 cin1 老千 from his forthcoming Cantonese-English Dictionary (University of Hawaii Press):

.hw lou5 cin1

char 老千

ps N.

clf 個 go3, 條 tiu4

en lit. old thousand; fig.; coll.; pun on homophony of 千 cin1 'thousand (r.t. money)' with 遷 cin1 'to move', as a swindler moves his victim's money to himself

seealso 出千 ceot1 cin1, 大鱷 daai6 ngok6, 拐子佬 gwaai2 zi2 lou2, 滚友 gwan2 jau5/2, 鹹水大鱷 haam4 seoi2 daai6 ngok6

df a swindler, cheat, conman, trickster, scoundrel; card cheat

exchar 香港都有唔少老千成日呃人

exrom hoeng1 gong2 dou1 jau5 m4 siu2 lou5 cin1 seng4 jat6 ngaak1 jan4

exeng Hong Kong has quite a few swindlers who are cheating people all the time

ser 1000003289

ref SL1977:516; WKB1997:165; ZYK1997:070; BWR1998:239; ZN1999:212; SS2002:172; CE2005:592; HB2005:261; LBC2008:245; ZZF2008:285; ROZ2009:138; LYM2010:514; MT2011:027; ROZ2016:168

From Lai Ka Yao:

Yes, I think that 老千股 is certainly the correct terminology! It is a rather common term – examples abound on the Internet, including in news articles. (In fact, I found many examples of 老千股 even in scholarly articles, when I was trying to look for the term's origin.)

老千 is often used with the verb 出, so 出老千 is generally used to mean 'to cheat'. Techniques for tricking people may be called 千術. (The word seot6 already refers to 'cheating technique'; 出術 is another way to say 'cheat').

I'm not really aware of the etymology of 老千, unfortunately – etymology is not really my forte… The word 老 is probably part of the regular morphological phenomenon where we add 老 in front of some nominal morpheme to 'slang-ise' the word, e.g. 老尷 = 尷尬. As for the origin, there seems to be at least four origins circulating on the Internet:

1) A story about a xiucai who cheated a lot of money by pretending to have been robbed; the relationship between the story and 千, however, is unclear. (

2) 千 originates from cheater's own terminology, and is one of six main techniques (「審、敲、打、千、隆、賣」) . 千 involves scaring the victim (in a 千方百計 way) until he gives in and asks you for help. If this is the case, I think the 老 might be related to the 老 of 老是, and 千 might also have something to do with 纏 (which is cin4 in Cantonese). (

3) Originates from the older game of 馬吊, which is apparently an older version of mahjong using paper cards,  (

4) Comes from the English word 'cheat'. ( However, I'm not sure why they'd have 'chosen' 千 instead of 切 cit3, which sounds more like 'cheat' in my opinion. There's also the syllable cit1 in 薄切切 (bok6 cit1 cit1 – Prof Bodomo has listed it in this paper), which is even closer to 'cheat' since HK speakers perceive stressed syllables as high tone.

From scholarly sources, I cannot find any origins at the moment, so I am afraid I can only find these folk etymologies for now.

From Abraham Chan:

This is indeed "老千". This term apparently came from the game "madiao 馬弔" (葉子戲). Gambling is not my forte, so I won't pretend to understand any of it, but you may consider the following explanation I've found on the web:

「老千」來源於「馬吊」,即紙牌,發展演化為麻將後,老千改為紅中,在有些地區,玩紙牌時規定老千、紅花、老蓋、一筒、一索、一萬等都叫「幺」,自然成副,九個「幺」算胡牌,所以出老千屬於不按正規出牌,有作弊的嫌疑,所以後來只要有作弊的動作,就說「出老千」。(Quoted, for example, here: )

This webpage ( has more info on the game rules, and the wiki entry (麻将) be also be useful.

From Mandy Chan:

I'm pretty sure it's 老千股, although semantically 撈錢股 also makes sense, but 老千股 is a more common parlance in Hong Kong. If this "cheater's stocks" practice originated in Hong Kong, then it's most likely 老千股, as the term 撈錢 doesn't sound like something that Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong would say. I don't know much about the stock market, but I've heard radio talk show hosts in Hong Kong warn their listeners about 老千股。

As to what I know about the meaning of 老千 — “千” sounds like it could come from cheating. Bear in mind that I'm not a linguistic expert so I pretty much only rely on knowing the language on a subconscious level. For some unknown reasons, Cantonese speakers (particularly those from Hong Kong) like to add “老” in front of a verb to turn it into a noun. This “老” prefix may have originally been an internal terminology by the Hong Kong police, as all crimes/vices, such as burglary (爆窃=“老爆”), rape (強姦=“老強”, but it bears no relation to “小強”, which is a cockroach), robbery/kidnapping (搶劫/綁架=“老笠”, 笠, like you're putting a hood over someone's head), all have “老” attached to them. You will hear those words mentioned in countless Hong Kong gangster movies. The classic movie by Paul Newman, the Sting, is translated as “老千計狀元才” in Hong Kong.

And then you have words such as “老奉” (from 奉旨=by order of the emperor, that is, to take something for granted).

There are many more examples…


Since lou5cin1 gu2 / lǎoqiān gǔ 老千股 ("swindler's / con artist's stocks") and, to a much less extent, lāoqián gǔ 捞钱股 ("fishing for money stocks") are already well-known in Hong Kong and the Mainland, this is a good case history of how an idea and an oral term for it pass between topolects and get written down in the Sinographic script.

[h.t. John Lagerwey]


  1. neko said,

    May 13, 2017 @ 4:37 pm

    Cantonese was my first language but I left as a kid, so I'm not up to date with the new expressions. That explains why my first reaction after reading the first part of the post was "maybe they meant '老襯股'?" (stocks for dopes, fraud victims)

    google dashed my theory though.

  2. John Finkbiner said,

    May 14, 2017 @ 3:28 am

    I didn't totally follow Ms Yams article. Is the financial manipulation she describes the same as a "pump and dump" followed by a re-purchase? If it is, why on earth is it legal? Are there no insider trading rules in China?

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