Tag Archives: fan death

Korean Electric Fan Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

M: “Okay, so there’s this like…It’s not really a superstition, but…back when the electric fan first came out [in South Korea], there was this news article that came out saying that if you slept—or if you were just in a room with a closed door—and the fan kept running, like you’d run out of like… (laughter) clean air, or oxygen, and you’d die.  So now people don’t like sleeping with fans running.”

Me: “So it was all derived from a newspaper article?”

M: “Apparently, I haven’t actually seen the source, but like, you just don’t sleep with your fan running or you die.”

Me: “Do most people believe that?”

M: “Yeah, in South Korea, because they think you’ll die.”


Context: The informant, M, is a 19-year-old USC student originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Her mom is originally from South Korea and is the source of her knowledge about many Korean superstitions.  M’s primary language is English, but she also speaks Korean.  While sitting with M, I asked her if she knew any Korean proverbs, myths, or superstitions.  After a moment of thought, she told me that her mom is very superstitious, and that she knows a handful of Korean superstitions through experience with her mom in her house.  She then proceeded to tell me this superstition about electric fans in Korea.



My Thoughts: I thought that this superstition was interesting, because it originated from a popular source, such as a newspaper.  This was not rooted in any religious or sacred beliefs, as many superstitions are.  This is a fairly new superstition, yet it has seemed to take dominance throughout South Korea, and most people believe it.  I like this superstition because, although electric fans have been around for a while and are clearly safe, the majority of South Koreans still hold this fear that they will kill you if you fall asleep with one on.  I tried to think of any superstitions that might mirror this one in America, but I really could not come up with something.  This is a very unique superstition to South Korea, and I think that it’s both interesting and funny.  It is outlandish, yet superstitions are so powerful that people, although though they might not actually believe something will kill you, will still practice it because they want to be safe about it.


Korean Fan Death

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as DS.

DS: In korea, if you sleep with the fan on, there’s a myth that you’ll die.
BD: Why?
DS: I don’t know.
BD: Who told you this?
DS: My mom.
BD: Where did she get it from?
DS: Her mom.
BD: Is it common in other Korean households?
DS: Yes, it’s very common. But everyone thinks of it as a joke.
BD: Does your mom actually believe it?
DS: No, she doesn’t. But she still always tells me to turn the fan off when I sleep.


Upon hearing this piece of folklore, I had thought it had a very clear scientific basis of belief—a fan would provide a slight breeze as one sleeps. Thus they could catch a cold and get very sick. But after reading more about this idea, Koreans do not have a clear scientific backing behind what they call “fan death.” They believe electric fans can actually kill people. The Atlantic discusses fan death and its origins in a recent article: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/is-this-going-to-kill-me-fan-death-korea/528243/. Historically, a man had been found dead with two fans in his room. Frank Bures, a writer on illnesses, believes this incident is from where the belief stems, but we really do not know for sure.