What is the history of the word 黄牛 meaning scalper?

MDBG defines it like this:

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  • I was also wondering what the English word "scalper" means.
    – PdotWang
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:14

3 Answers 3


For the usage of Wu dialect in the Jiangnan area, if a person breaks an appointment, it can be said 他今天黄牛了.

In dialects of other places, the word also has the meaning of falling through. For example: 这件事要黄了.

Therefore, whether it is yellow(黄) or scalper(黄牛), there is a negative connotation of fraud and dishonesty in the dialect.

The first is the theory of appearance, which most people think makes sense

The word scalper(黄牛) comes from Shanghai in the 20th century. It refers to the group of ticket dealers who often rush to buy tickets like a commotion of yellow cattle(黄牛), so they are called scalpers(黄牛).

The second theory is "toolman theory", which is a wild folk saying.

People think that the reason why yellow cattle are associated with ticket dealers is because at that time, most of the drivers who pulled the carts wore yellow vests, and pulling carts was a hard work (like a cow). Therefore, people are used to calling this kind of car yellow cattle car(黄牛车) which is rickshaw.

In the era when there was no Internet, it was not easy to buy a ticket. The drivers of the rickshaw(黄牛车) often wandered around the train station and bus station, and got to know the staff at the station quite well. So some civilians who can't buy tickets entrust them to help buy tickets.

As "intermediaries" who are sensitive to business opportunities, they naturally have to earn some price difference from it, so scalpers(黄牛) have gradually become synonymous with ticket dealers.




黄牛, or in general, 牛, is a kind of domestic animal that is good at carrying loads. This word is colloquially used for someone who buy-and-sale stuff for benefits, usually acting illegally and immorally. It is an extension of 肩客 who carries things with their shoulders. 黄牛 and 肩客 are often used together. They are derogatory words for 中间商,中介人.

For example,


Some experts act as "scalper brokers" in violation of regulations. In the decision-making of project investment, they used their status and fame to collude with some bidders to defraud funds and profit from it. (English version is mostly based on Google Translate)

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