Talking about Fan Death with a Korean Guy

Ever fallen asleep in a room with an electric fan  running? I’m pretty sure I have but in Korea, there’s no way this would happen. According to popular  belief, if there’s no ventilation in the room the fan would  destroy all the oxygen and you’d suffocate or it would  cool the room temperature down to a level that would  induce hypothermia. Either way, there’s pretty much a  100 percent chance you’ll die. Korea has had a pretty  bad rap recently. Obama hasn’t taken it’s nuclear  development too well, despite it being only a quarter of  America’s own, and the West in general has done it’s  best to make Kim Jong Il the embodiment of a power  hungry megalomaniac dwarf in NHS glasses. But we  shouldn’t care about the effects of Korea on the global  economy or its potential weapons of mass destruction.  The path to a country becoming totalitarian is mainly paved with people being instilled with gradual doses of paranoia. It’s like slowly administering sedatives to a sick dog until it goes to sleep forever. According to the Korean Medical Association, around 20 people die of fan death each year. So why are the Korean government perpetuating this belief by producing fans with labels warning not to turn them on in a room with no ventilation and even installing mandatory timers on fans so they’ll cut-off within a “safe” time frame? I asked a Korean guy what he thought of this and the western view that it’s, well, just bullshit. By the way, he was called Robin.

Hi Robin, let’s talk about Fan Death.

Fan Death is seen as a serious issue. People have died, OK.

How have they died?

I read a story once of a man who fell asleep in his house with his ceiling fan on and in the night his door must have blown shut. His best friend went round the next day and he was dead. He’d suffocated.

That sucks, but do you really think it was the ceiling fan?

Maybe. I don’t personally know anyone who’s died this way but I’m pretty sure it’s a real danger.

You don’t know anyone who’s died of fan death? So it’s always been a friend of a friend?


It sounds like the definition of an urban myth.

There’s lots of information about it. The fan sucks up all the oxygen and converts it into carbon dioxide. If there’s no extra air coming into the room through a vent, you end up with not enough air in the room. That’s how it happens.

Sounds like you’re pretty clued up with the science. Where do you get your information from?

Some schools teach you about fan death. They also put warnings on the boxes when you buy a new fan and all of them have timers. Why would they do that if there weren’t serious dangers?

Maybe there’s an element of control. Over here some people say that leaving a light on uses up less electricity than turning it off and on again. That doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit. Maybe there’s a bigger issue?

I know governments don’t tell the truth all the time but it seems weird to lie about something like fan death. I may be a little bit sceptical, but I can be equally sceptical about science. Science hasn’t explained everything in the world and there still may be things we can’t explain. Just because we can’t explain it, that doesn’t mean it never happens. It’s possible for one small group of people to know something the rest of the world hasn’t discovered yet.

Ok, but Korea has a strong honour culture and doesn’t like dealing with subversive aspects of society like mental illness or suicide. Is it possible that families may be ashamed that a member close to them has committed suicide so getting a doctor to blame fan death is a better option in Korean society?

I can imagine some people being ashamed of one of their family committing suicide but I don’t think fan death is covering these instances up. We don’t have many suicides in Korea.

I’ve gone to sleep in a room with an electric fan on before and I woke up in the morning and turned it off. Proof, no? 

No. I’d just say you’re very lucky.

Fan death is perceived as such a huge issue in Korea that it gets covered by national news stations. Here’s a spot from a Korean news channel telling people not to go to sleep in a locked room with a fan running unless they want to die… at least I think that’s what it’s about. I can’t speak Korean.

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