Fan Death

It’s summer, and it’s hot, and every night I sleep with a fan blowing blessedly cool air over my bed, usually with the windows closed to keep the murdering rapists out. So I’m sure that others will be as surprised as me to discover that in one country in the world, this is considered to be as dangerous as sleeping with a loaded gun.

South Koreans of all ages, religions and levels of education will tell you that every year in S.Korea, people fall victim to ‘Fan Death‘ resulting from operating a fan in a closed room while asleep. This is not a kooky urban legend supported by only a few neurotics – fans in S.Korea come with warnings not to operate them under the above conditions, and include timer nobs so that the fan can be set to safely turn off on its own as you fall asleep. The media participates by reporting cases of fan death in all seriousness. And the government-funded Korean Consumer Protection Board has released this statement:

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [the] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.

Even the medical experts in the country are convinced that this happens, and have put forward plenty of explanations for why, ranging from asphixiation to hyperthermia to hypothermia. None of them seem to be able to explain why it doesn’t happen in North Korea, or in other countries with similar climates, or even to Koreans living abroad.

How does it get this bad? A vicious circle of argument by authority – the doctors think that it must be real because it’s in the media, the media thinks it must be real because the doctors say it is, and South Koreans think it must be real because the doctors and the media say it is. Any lone voice in the wilderness is summarily drowned out, such as those doctors who actually perform the autopsies and pronounce cause of death due to heart or lung disease or serious alcoholism. South Koreans will vigorously defend their belief as cultural if faced with a skeptical foreignor, and will even go so far as to suggest that perhaps South Koreans have a unique physiology that makes them susceptible to this particular danger.

Fan death is a fantastic example of how something with absolutely zero basis in fact can take on the appearance of fact, and even be defended in the face of no supporting evidence beyond anecdotes, vox populi and argument by authority. Replace ‘fan death’ with ‘homeopathy’, ‘astrology’ or any other baseless belief, and that statement still stands.

Fan Death

19 Responses to “Fan Death”

  1. “Fan Death” sounds like one of those bad Chinese Kung Fu movies of the ’60s and ’70s, you know the kind where the wizened master sporting a thin white moustache and goatee proceeds to decimate the oppressive emperor’s army using nothing but a ladies’ fan of paper and bamboo. On first reading the heading, the thought entered my head that perhaps the WBC had now gone another step too far in denouncing Heath Ledger and his fans…

    However, the diagram excerpted from the operating manual suggests that the real cause of “fan death” is an inappropriate amorous advance brought on by the fan’s hypnotic humming, aggravated by extensive prior herniation from carting the damn thing about.

  2. I wonder if the South Korean film industry has tapped into this phenomenon as a plot for a murder mystery movie? BLADES OF DOOM – the silent killer

  3. It is pleasant to note that the South Koreans, the most wired-up, hitech-savvy people in the world, are just as gullible and superstitious as the rest of us.

    Perhaps it is better to have many small erroneous beliefs than just one big one as their friends in the North do. I visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea several times, and their faith in their Dear Leader and in anything he pronounces is frightening.

  4. residentRsole Says:

    …Even the medical experts in the country are convinced that this happens,…

    Reminds me of the French with (a) N-Rays (b) HIV scandal during the eighties (c) Beneviste (d) Bogdanov Affair.

    I won’t be be too hard on the French. They have built nukes, Mirage jet-fighters and exocet missiles, all of which work very well. And let’s not forget French Fries and the Concorde – oops, the only Concorde that crashed was operated by – you guessed it – Air France. 🙂

  5. i dunno – i’ve finally decided that in spite of my automatic cultural bias against the french i find them quite agreeable. apparently it’s just the parisians that suck…

    *turns off fan*

  6. residentRSole Says:

    apparently it’s just the parisians that suck…

    totalwaste: You hit the nail on the head. I have thought about it and it is specifically the Parisians that piss me off. I can’t stand the Parisian accent.

    The French folk that you find in the French Riveria are a nice bunch. Other people have said to me that they like the French but they spent most of their time in Canne and Nice. I enjoyed my time in Nice and even Monte Carlo, despite the overwhelming affluence, doesn’t make a poor sod like me feel unwelcome. Paris, on the other hand …

  7. It’s like when I was in Taiwan, the chinese are conviced that drinking cold water will kill you. I had little kids making the “die” finger at me by crooking the little finger when I walked into a classroom with a bottle just out of the fridge. Someone explained it to me something about ying and yang and chi and shit.

    I suspect that it has a more prosaic and practical root however, in that they purify water by boiling it. And if the water is warm then you know at least that it’s been purified, but if it’s cold then it could be straight out of the tap.

    “The Chinese and Tibetans have discussed the effects of cold liquids on one’s health for thousands of years. It’s very basic: the nature of cold is to contract and constrict. Drinking cold liquids causes constriction of the blood vessels and nerves in the Stomach and digestive tract creating spasm, tightness and restricted circulation. Digestion requires heat; in other words, yang or metabolic energy to digest. Cold extinguishes this heat, preventing proper digestion and assimilation of food, toxic gases and byproducts of this failed process. It also forces the body to expend additional yang/heat or metabolic energy further draining the organs from which this energy originates: Kidney yang/Adrenals.”

  8. residentRSole Says:

    Bast: Chinese Cold Water Torture ?

  9. Con-Tester Says:

    Our old friend, Danie Krugel, might soon be a victim of fan death: being trampled to death by a fan stampede. See, his latest shtick is peddling cancer diagnoses. The SA sceptic’s forum has a translation of the article.

  10. Hm…1984 comes to mind….

    …The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” —Syme, pg 46-47

  11. fuck you Says:


  12. @ Bast

    I’ve been in Taiwan for five years now and I heard no such absurdities. I confirmed with my colleagues that the belief simply doesn’t exist. The kids prob made the “die” finger sign at you because you drank their last bottle of ice water on a hot and humid summer day.

  13. Well, I’m Corean. I’ve believed ‘Fan Death,’ and usually I open the window when I turn on the fan. Because I think the air cannot be turned.
    Now I won’t believe that…

  14. I’m also Korean, like YG, and this is really true. Believe in me!!

  15. 울상이 Says:

    위에 뭐라하시는지…

  16. no that’s not true

  17. 님들 좀 짱

  18. Con-Tester Says:

    Oh sheep, it’s the start of that invasion Monty Python warned us about all those years ago!

  19. I am also Korean, but my parents don’t believe in it.
    Air Conditioning, maybe, but not fans.

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