The University of Toronto has apologized after handing out “hell money” or joss paper in red envelopes to students and residents for Lunar New Year.

“Members of the University of Toronto Graduate House Team prepared a display to celebrate the Lunar New Year,” reads a statement emailed to the Star from a University of Toronto spokesperson. “Unfortunately, incorrect bank notes were unintentionally placed into the red envelopes.”

By the time they caught the error, all the envelopes had been taken, they said.

“The University of Toronto deeply regrets this error.”

Traditionally, bright red envelopes are filled with money and doled out as symbols of good luck and prosperity for the recipient in the coming year. However, instead of currency, some U of T students received red envelopes filled with joss paper, so-called death money meant to be burned in offering to deities and deceased ancestors in the afterlife. One of the images of the paper money shared with the Star clearly reads “HELL BANK NOTE” on the top.

The practice of burning joss paper dates as far back as the Song Dynasty in China and is traditionally practiced in Taoism and Buddhism. The burning of paper offerings to the dead is an expression of filial piety, to give one’s ancestors some of the luxuries that may have eluded them in the world they once lived in. Some people also burn joss paper in offering to deities in order to gain favor.

The statement from the university also says they are “deeply committed to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion,” and will “continue our important educational efforts to better understand our diverse communities.”

U of T has a large population of Asian international students, with over 15,000 students from China alone, according to data posted to their website.

Symbols and talk of death and of dying is often times taboo and extremely bad luck in the beliefs of Chinese culture. It’s why the Chinese are so averse to the number four, because when spoken aloud, it sounds similar to the word for death.

This is why handing out something like joss paper or “hell money” to a living person is alarming and culturally offensive.

Students living in the Graduate House sent an email on Wednesday to representatives of the residence and other relevant figures at the university and in the broader community to bring attention to the “hell money” students received in the envelopes and how it was offensive.

The university issued an apology, written in Mandarin, on its WeChat page, a Chinese instant messaging and social media app, primarily followed by Chinese students.

A translation of the post in English says they apologize for the error and immediately removed the red envelopes after learning about the incident.

The post also says the university will continue its effort to educate the school community to learn and embrace the cultural diversity among them and to deepen the sense of inclusivity and belonging across their three campuses.

On Friday, a group of Asian U of T undergraduate and postgraduate students, along with an alumnus, met with the Star to discuss the incident and the university’s initial reaction to it.

One student noted how difficult it is to find joss paper in Toronto and questioned the motives behind sourcing it and including it in the envelopes, but they’re hoping it was an honest mistake.

Many said the university’s decision to release an apology in Mandarin to its WeChat page minimized the episode, and said it should have been posted on channels in English that are followed more, for more people to read and understand.

The Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) also criticized the university’s initial apology, and said “this incident must be understood in light of the significance of the Lunar New Year and its traditions, as well as the ever-present anti -Asian racism in Canadian society. ”

Ryan Chan, a project lead with CCNC-SJ, noted the bills have “Hell Bank Note” written at the top of the paper and this is hard to miss.

“It is despicable that large institutions try to capitalize on their so-called diversity and can not be bothered to make the minimal effort to check their facts,” said Susan Eng, the vice-president of CCNC-SJ, in a statement.

Lin Hou, a student at U of T who was part of the meeting with the Star, said they are educated on Christian holidays, such as Christmas, and are taught what is and what is not respectful.

It’s important for people to be educated on Chinese culture and traditions in the same way to avoid a situation like this in the future, she said.

If U of T’s apology was widely distributed and more specific about the inclusion of joss paper in the envelopes and mentioned the importance of Lunar New Year and its customs, it could have been used as a teaching moment for other students and faculty at the university, Hou said.

“If we do not promote that, then people will never know,” Hou said.

The students also released a petition calling for an end to anti-Asian racism on campus and an official apology to all students and an investigation into the incident, mental health support for students affected, and a detailed course of action to all students and staff to prevent any further incidents of cultural insensitivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought along with it a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric, with attacks on Asian-Canadian seniors, violence against Asians, and vandalism of Asian-Canadian businesses.

Last month, both The Guardian and the BBC ran a food recipe for Lunar New Year and the accompanying photo showed pan-fried dumplings arranged alongside joss paper.

The image has since been removed from The Guardian’s site.

“The image accompanying the recipe for pork and crab dumplings was amended on 17 January 2022 to remove joss paper shown next to the plate in the original picture. Such paper is burned for the dead at funerals and in other rituals in China and other parts of Asia. We apologize for this cultural error, ” reads a caption at the bottom of the recipe.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.



Reference-www.thestar.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.