Baekdu mountain

Paektu Mountain
Changbai Shan
Paektu Mountain volcano, April 2003
Elevation 2,744 m (9,003 ft)
Prominence 2,593 m (8,507 ft)
Listing Country high point
Paektu Mountain
Changbai Shan
Location in North Korea, on the border with China
Location Ryanggang, North Korea
Jilin, China

42°00′20″N 128°03′19″E / 42.00556°N 128.05528°E / 42.00556; 128.05528Coordinates: 42°00′20″N 128°03′19″E / 42.00556°N 128.05528°E / 42.00556; 128.05528

Type Stratovolcano
Last eruption 1903[1]

Baekdu, Paektu, or Changbai Mountain is an active volcano on the border between North Korea and China. At 2,744 m (9,003 ft), it is the highest mountain of the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges. It is also the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula and in northeastern China.[2] A large crater lake, called Heaven Lake, is in the caldera atop the mountain.


The modern names of the mountain in Chinese and Korean come from the Sushen or Proto-Jurchen language of the Manchu peoples. Its modern Manchu name is Golmin Šanggiyan Alin or White Mountain. Similarly, its Mongolian name is Ondor Tsagaan Aula, the Lofty White Mountain.

In Chinese, the mountain itself is known as Chángbáishān ("Perpetually White Mountain") but the mountain and Heaven Lake taken together are known as Báitóushān ("Whitehead Mountain").[3] This later name, read in Korean and variously romanized, is the source of the North Korean name Paektu San and South Korean Baekdu San.

In English, various authors have used non-standard transliterations.[4]

Geography and geology

Baekdu Mountain is a stratovolcano whose cone is truncated by a large caldera, about 5 km (3.1 mi) wide and 850 m (2,789 ft) deep, partially filled by the waters of Heaven Lake.[1] The caldera was created by a colossal eruption (VEI=7)[5] in 969 AD (± 20 years).[6] Volcanic ash from this eruption has been found as far away as the southern part of Hokkaidō, the northern island of Japan. The lake has a circumference of 12 to 14 kilometres (7.5–8.7 miles), with an average depth of 213 m (699 ft) and maximum depth of 384 m (1,260 ft). From mid-October to mid-June, the lake is typically covered with ice. In 2011, experts in North and South Korea met to discuss the potential for a significant eruption in the near future,[7] as the volcano explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903.[8]

The central section of the mountain rises about 3 mm every year, due to rising levels of magma below the central part of the mountain. Sixteen peaks exceeding 2,500 m (8,200 ft) line the caldera rim surrounding Heaven Lake. The highest peak, called Janggun Peak, is covered in snow about eight months of the year. The slope is relatively gentle until about 1,800 metres (5,905 ft).

Water flows north out of the lake, and near the outlet there is a 70 metre (230 ft) waterfall. The mountain is the source of the Songhua, Tumen and Yalu rivers.


The weather on the mountain can be very erratic, sometimes severe. The annual average temperature at the peak is −8.3 °C (17.1 °F). During summer, temperatures of about 18 °C (64 °F) or higher can be reached, and during winter temperatures can drop to −48 °C (−54 °F). Average temperature is about −24 °C (−11 °F) in January, and 10 °C (50 °F) in July, remaining below freezing for eight months of the year. Average wind speed is 42 kilometres (26.1 mi) per hour, peaking at 63 kilometres (39.1 mi) per hour. Relative humidity averages 74%. Summer snow cover on the peak has reduced dramatically during that time.

Flora and fauna

There are five known species of plants in the lake on the peak, and some 168 were counted along its shores. The forest on the Chinese side is ancient and almost unaltered by humans. Birch predominates near the tree line, and pine lower down, mixed with other species. In recent decades, significant climate warming has resulted in changes in the structure of the ancient forests on the upper slopes, with a change over from birch to more pine, and a thickening of the forest canopy. There has been extensive deforestation on the lower slopes on the North Korean side of the mountain.

The area is a known habitat for tigers, bears, leopards, wolves, and wild boars. Deer in the mountain forests, which cover the mountain up to about 2000 metres, are of the Paekdusan roe deer kind. Many wild birds such as black grouse, owls, and woodpecker are known to inhabit the area. The mountain has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a population of Scaly-sided Mergansers.[9]


The Baekdu Mountain has been worshipped by the surrounding peoples throughout history. Both the Koreans and Manchus consider it the place of their ancestral origin.


It was first recorded in the Chinese classic text Shan Hai Jing with the name Buxian Shan (不咸山,即神仙山, the Mountain with God). It is also called Shanshan Daling (單單大嶺, the Big Big Big Mountain. 《說文》:"單,大也。") in the Canonical Book of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the Second Canonical Book of the Tang Dynasty, it was called Taibai Shan (太白山, the Grand Old White Mountain).[10] The current Chinese name Changbai Shan (長白山, perpetually white mountain) was first used in the Liao Dynasty (907–1125)[11] and then the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115–1234).[12]

The Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115–1234) bestowed the title "the King Who Makes the Nation Prosperous and Answers with Miracles" (興國靈應王, Xingguo Lingying Wang) on the mountain god in 1172 and it was promoted to "the Emperor Who Cleared the Sky with Tremendous Sagehood" (開天宏聖帝, Kaitian Hongsheng Emperor) in 1193.


Koreans consider Mount Baekdu as the place of their ancestral origin and as a sacred mountain, one of the three "spirited" mountains (Jirisan, Hallasan and Baekdusan; "san" means a mountain in Korean); the one contained in the legendary foundation of Korea. From the beginning of history through the Three Kingdoms period, to the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, Koreans have spiritually depended upon the "divine" mountain.

The mountain was considered sacred by Koreans throughout history. The legendary beginning of Korea's first kingdom, Gojoseon (2333 BC–108 BC), takes place here. Many subsequent kingdoms of Korea, such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, Balhae, Goryeo and Joseon, considered the mountain sacred and held worshipping rituals for the mountain.[13][14]

The Goryeo dynasty (935–1392) first called the mountain Baekdu,[15] recording that the Jurchens across the Yalu River were made to live outside of Baekdu Mountain. The Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) recorded volcanic eruptions in 1597, 1668, and 1702. The 15th century, King Sejong the Great strengthened the fortification along the Tumen and Yalu rivers, making the mountain a natural border with the northern peoples.[16] Some Koreans claim that the entire region near Baekdu Mountain and the Tumen River belongs to Korea and part of it was illegally sold by Japanese colonialists to China through the Gando Convention.

Dense forest around the mountain provided bases for Korean armed resistance against the Japanese occupation, and later communist guerrillas during the Korean War. North Korea claims that Kim Il-sung organized his resistance against the Japanese forces there and that Kim Jong-il was born there,[17] although records outside of North Korea suggest that he was actually born in Vyatskoye in the Soviet Union.

Border disputes

According to Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the Yalu (鴨綠江) and Tumen Rivers (土門江/圖們江) were set as the borders in the era of the founder of Joseon Dynasty, Taejo of Joseon (1335–1408).[18] Because of the continuous entry of Korean people into Gando, a region in Manchuria that lay north of the Tumen Manchu and Korean officials surveyed the area and negotiated a border agreement in 1712. To mark the agreement, they built a monument describing the boundary at a watershed, near the south of the crater lake at the mountain peak. The interpretation of the inscription caused a territorial dispute from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and is still disputed by academics today. The 1909 Gando Convention between China and Japan (Japan was responsible for Korea's foreign affairs at the time, according to the Eulsa Treaty, though this treaty was later declared null and void in 1965 by the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea) recognized the area north and east as Chinese territory. The border was further clarified in 1962, when China and North Korea negotiated a border treaty on the mountain border in response to minor disputes. The two countries agreed to share the mountain and the lake at the peak, with Korea controlling approximately 54.5% and gaining approximately 230 km² in the treaty.[19]

Recent disputes

Some South Korean groups argue that recent activities conducted on the Chinese side of the border, such as economic development, cultural festivals, infrastructure development, promotion of the tourism industry, attempts at registration as a World Heritage Site, and bids for a Winter Olympic Games, are an attempt to claim the mountain as Chinese territory.[20][21] These groups object to China's use of Changbai Mountain, which has been used since Liao Dynasty[11] and the earlier Jin Dynasty (1115–1234).[12] Some groups also regard the entire mountain as Korean territory that was given away by North Korea in the Korean War.[21] Both European maps and Chinese maps dating before the annexation of Baekdu Mountain and Gando show these areas to be under Korean Joseon Dynasty control.[22][23]

During the 2007 Asian Winter Games, which were held in Changchun, China, a group of South Korean athletes held up signs during the award ceremony which stated "Mount Baekdu is our territory". Chinese sports officials delivered a letter of protest on the grounds that political activities violated the spirit of the Olympics and were banned in the charter of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia. The head of the Korea Olympic Committee responded by stating that the incident was accidental and held no political meaning.[24][25][26][27] South Korea has attempted to avoid having this issue become a source of friction between South Korea and China. The athletes' gesture did not become as big an issue as Liancourt Rocks dispute and the Sea of Japan naming dispute.

The 2007 official National Atlas of Korea[28] shows the boundary as per the 1962 agreement, roughly splitting the mountain and the caldera lake. However, South Korea claim the caldera lake and inside part of the ridge enclosing the lake are Korean territory.[29]


Foreign visitors, mostly South Koreans, usually climb the mountain from the Chinese side, although Baekdu Mountain is a common tourist destination for foreign tourists in North Korea. The Chinese touristic site is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.[30]

There are a number of monuments on the North Korean side of the mountain. Baekdu Spa is a natural spring and is used for bottled water. Pegae Hill is a famous camp site of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army (Hangul: 조선인민혁명군, Hanja: 朝鮮人民革命軍) led by Kim Il-sung during their struggle against Japanese colonial rule. There are also a number of secret camps which are now open to the public. There are several waterfalls, including the Hyongje Falls which splits into two separate falls about a third from the top.

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Yonson Ahn: China and the Two Koreas Clash Over Mount Paekdu/Changbai: Memory Wars Threaten Regional Accommodation (Japan Focus, 27 July 2007)
  • Satellite image by Google Maps
  • Retrieved 1 January 2009.

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