Imagine you are visiting with a friend in South Korea, who has kindly let you sleep on the couch in his small apartment to save money on a hotel. It’s hot out, so as you settle in for the night you turn on the fan in the room to cool things down. Suddenly, your friend becomes angry:
“Are you trying to kill me?!?” he says and stomps over to the fan, turning a little dial at its base and setting some sort of built-in timer. He leaves without saying another word.
What have you done?
Welcome to the world of South Korean Fan Death. South Korean Fan Death is a belief in Korean culture that leaving a fan on all night in a closed area can kill you in your sleep.
It’s a superstition almost as old as the electric fan itself, but many believe that the South Korean government, ahem, fanned the flames of the superstition during the 1970’s.
During the 1970’s South Korea was going through an energy crisis and the government desperately wanted people to curb their energy use. Fans being left on all night was viewed as a massive waste of energy, so they released propaganda to the public that made people fearful of keeping their fans on all night.
The idea behind the Fan Death superstition is that keeping a fan on all night might lower a person’s body temperature enough to kill them. Or somehow change all the oxygen in the room into carbon dioxide. Either way, leaving a fan on all night is viewed as playing a game of Russian Roulette …not worth it for the tiny benefit of having an artificial breeze blowing while you sleep.
As a result fans sold in South Korea have timers on them so that the fans can be set to turn off after an hour two. Even so, there are usually at least several reported cases of people dying of ‘fan death’ during the summer time each year, further perpetuating the myth.
So if you’re ever in South Korea it might be best to set that fan timer, lest your host think you’re out to kill them.