University of Toronto apologises for giving out ‘hell money’ during Chinese New Year
The University of Toronto in Canada has apologised to students who received joss paper or “hell money” in red envelopes as a gift from the university on Chinese New Year after the move offended many in its Asian student cohort.
"Hell money", or joss paper, is used to burn as offerings to the dead.
Staff members of a graduate dormitory at the university prepared a display to celebrate Chinese New Year and incorrect bank notes were unintentionally placed into the red envelopes, said a university spokesman in a statement.
By the time they caught the error, all the envelopes had been taken, said the spokesman, who added that the university was "deeply regretful" over the mistake and had already retrieved all the red packets which contained the "hell money".
Some students pointed out that the "HELL BANK NOTE" written at the top of the bill was hard to miss and even if the university was unfamiliar with Asian culture, they should not have made such a mistake.
"Giving 'hell money' to a living person is a horrible act because you are conveying to the person that 'you are dead to me' or, worse, 'I wish you were dead,'" one student wrote on online forum Reddit.
The Reddit user also opined that the dormitory did not consult any of their Asian staff or students before handing out the "hell money", despite the university having a sizable Asian population.
Soon after the complaints were published online, the dormitory issued an apology in an e-mail to the residents, the university news site The Strand reported.
The dormitory said it was “not a malicious attempt" and they had wanted only to "create a festive atmosphere".
In a similar incident recently, UK media outlet The Guardian was slammed online for featuring Chinese New Year dish recipes alongside joss papers.