Stop on-campus Anti-Asian racism: Calling for an Investigation of “hell bank money”

Stop on-campus Anti-Asian racism: Calling for an Investigation of “hell bank money”

February 4, 2022
Petition to
University of Toronto Governing Council and
Signatures: 12,328Next Goal: 15,000
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Why this petition matters

We are writing in regards to a horrible cultural offence that happened at the University of Toronto (U of T) on February 1st, during which the Graduate House Resident Team placed a bowl of red envelopes filled with "Hell Bank Notes" at the common area (see "the incident" for more information). We, Asian students significantly impacted by this inappropriate practice, demand that the University of Toronto:

1 - Provide an official apology to all students on three campuses, and commence investigation for this inappropriate action. This apology, along with further explanation, shall provide a comprehensive account of the incident. The statement must also address why the red envelopes were distributed without consulting with students or staff of Asian heritage and why the Graduate House staff conducted this racist and culturally imperialistic action. 

2 - Provide essential care, especially mental health support for students who have been negatively impacted by this incident.

3 - Offer a detailed course of action to all students and staff across three campuses to prevent any further unwarranted appropriation of cultural contents and expressions. It is the university's responsibility to ensure respect, equity, and inclusivity for students from all cultural and racial backgrounds. This event at Graduate House calls for more specific measures and protocols. We suggest the following actions as a starting point:

  • Establishing an on-campus organization, employing cultural consultants to eliminate any practical possibility of similar incidents;
  • Educating staff and students about the cultural significance and proper acknowledgement of the hell bank note and why it is extremely offensive, particularly during the Spring Festival;
  • Equipping staff and students with adequate knowledge and resources to identify and report cultural imperialism, specifically misuses of Asian cultural elements. 

4 - Create a student-centred monitoring system to forestall such culturally offensive practices. We must not continue to take such a reactive gesture to forms of racism—whether intentional or not. The University of Toronto must be proactively committed to diversity and equity. Confronted with historical misrepresentation and oppression, the Asian communities demonstrated resilience and strength. However, we are not your model minority. Culturally inappropriate actions, perpetuating marginalization of our people, need to be stopped. The University of Toronto, home to numerous Asian students and staff, must take the leading role in Canadian society to nurture cultural diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The Incident

On February 1st, 2022, Spring Festival, the University of Toronto Graduate House distributed red envelopes to students and residents who were celebrating the Spring Festival. Shockingly, these red envelopes contained “Hell Bank Notes,” traditionally offered to the dead during funerals or festivals. Giving hell money to living individuals is repugnant since it can be a malicious curse. It is especially surprising that this event transpired since “Hell Bank Note” is explicitly printed on the paper money. 

It is disrespectful and ignorant to hold a cultural event without consulting people within the cultural community. Such discriminations, in addition to their factual essences of hate speech and violence (see "historical context" for more information), concurrently reveal an ignorant perspective and a perfunctory motive within the chain of decision, which proved to be ineffective in this incident.  

Given the current social tension and discrimination against Asians during COVID-19, receiving hell money from an institution that claims to be equitable and inclusive is extremely upsetting to students who have trusted U of T to be a safe and embracing land for diversity.  This action also violates the Statement of Equity, Diversity, and Excellence honored by the University of Toronto, highlighting a greater institutional ignorance towards minorities. We are disappointed to learn that our community is not ready to support students in a thoughtful manner. We demand actions, not words. 


Historical Context

Hell money (also known as Joss paper) is paper money traditionally burned to the deceased in East Asian culture. Conventionally, giving hell money to a living person is an extremely offensive gesture as it conveys: “I wish you were dead”. What Graduate House has done is derogatory and has traumatized students, especially during the Spring Festival—the time when people celebrate luck and prosperity for the coming year. 



University of Toronto Governing Council. (2006, December 14). Equity, diversity and excellence, statement on [December 14, 2006]. The Office of the Governing Council. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from,and%20worth%20of%20every%20person

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Signatures: 12,328Next Goal: 15,000
Support now