Paektu Mountain

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Paektu Mountain
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 is located in North Korea
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain
Location in North Korea, on the border with China.
Location Ryanggang, North Korea
Jilin, China
Coordinates 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]
Paektu Mountain
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning "Ever-white Mountain"
Baekdu Mountain
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning "Whitehead Mountain"
Korean name
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡤᠣᠯᠮᡳᠨ ᡧᠠᠩᡤᡳᠶᠠᠨ ᠠᠯᡳᠨ.SVG
Romanization Golmin Šanggiyan Alin

Paektu, Baekdu, 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.


Etymology of Baekdu.

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[edit]

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 m (5,910 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[edit]

Painting from the Manchu Veritable Records with the names of Baekdu Mountain in Manchu, Chinese and Mongolian
Baekdu Mountain on the North Korean national emblem.

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, 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[edit]

PRC-DPRK border around Baekdu-Changbai Mountain (Google map)

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[edit]

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]



In 2014, the Government of North Korea invited vulcanologists James Hammond of Imperial College, London and Clive Oppenheimer of the University of Cambridge to study the mountain for recent volcanic activity. Their work is expected to last for "two or three years".[30]


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.[31]

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 camp site of the Korean People's 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 of the way from the top.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Baekdusan". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  2. ^ Ehlers, Jürgen; Gibbard, Philip (2004). Quaternary Glaciations: South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia, Antarctica. Elsevier. The Changbai Mountain is the highest (2570 m a.s.l.) in north-eastern China (42°N,128°E) on the border between China and Korea. 
  3. ^ ISBN 7-5031-2136-X page 31
  4. ^ Examples: Paektu-san("Paektu-san: North Korea". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) (Korean 백두산("백두산: North Korea". Retrieved 4 October 2010. )), Ch’ang Pai,("Ch’ang Pai: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Chang-pai Shan,("Chang-pai Shan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Chōhaku-san,("Chōhaku-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō,("Hakutō: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō-san,("Hakutō-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō-zan,("Hakutō-zan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Paik-to-san,("Paik-to-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Mount Paitoushar,("Mount Paitoushar: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Paitow Shan,("Paitow Shan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Pei-schan("Pei-schan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) and Bai Yun Feng.
  5. ^ "Changbaishan". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Horn, Susanne; Schmincke, Hans-Ulrich (2000). "Volatile emission during the eruption of Baitoushan Volcano (China/North Korea) ca. 969 AD". Bulletin of Volcanology 61 (8): 537–555. doi:10.1007/s004450050004. 
  7. ^ Sam Kim, Yonhap (22 March 2011). "(LEAD) S. Korea agrees to talks on possible volcano in N. Korea". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  8. ^ "Vigil at North Korea's Mount Doom". Science Magazine. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Mount Paekdu". Important Bird Areas factsheet. BirdLife International. 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  10. ^ Second Canonical Book of the Tang Dynasty.《新唐書.北狄渤海傳》:"契丹盡忠殺營州都督趙翽反,有舍利乞乞仲象者,與靺鞨酋乞四比羽及高麗餘種東走,度遼水,保太白山之東北,阻奧婁河,樹壁自固。"(English translation: Khitan general Jinzhong Li killed Hui Zhao, the commanding officer of Yin Zhou. Officer Dae Jung-sang, with Mohe chieftain Qisi Piyu and Goguryeo remnants, escaped to the east, crossed Liao River, guarded the northeast part of the Grand Old White Mountain, blocked Oulou River, built walls to protect themselves.)
  11. ^ a b "Records of Khitan Empire". 《契丹国志》:"长白山在冷山东南千余里......禽兽皆白。"(English translation: "Changbai Mountain is a thousand miles to the southeast of Cold Mountain...Birds and animals there are all white.")
  12. ^ a b "Canonical History Records of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty".《金史.卷第三十五》:"長白山在興王之地,禮合尊崇,議封爵,建廟宇。""厥惟長白,載我金德,仰止其高,實惟我舊邦之鎮。”(English translation: "Changbai Mountain is in old Jurchen's land, highly respectful, suitable for building temples. "Only the Changbai Mountain can carry Jurchen Jin Dynasty's spirit; It is so high; It is a part of our old land.")
  13. ^ "Korea Britannica" (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  14. ^ Song, Yong-deok (2007). "The recognition of mountain Baekdu in the Koryo dynasty and early times of the Joseon dynasty". History and Reality v.64. 
  15. ^ Goryeosa (King Gwangjong reign, 959)
  16. ^ "Yahoo Korea Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  17. ^ "Moved". Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  18. ^ (Korean)(Chinese) 朝鮮王朝実録太祖8卷4年(1395年)12月14日 "以鴨綠江爲界。""以豆滿江爲界。"
  19. ^ 역사비평 (Historical Criticism), Fall, 1992
  20. ^ Chosun
  21. ^ a b Donga.
  22. ^ Korea Focus.
  23. ^ Hankooki.[dead link]
  24. ^ Chosunilbo China Upset with "Baekdu Mountain" Skaters [1] "There are no territorial disputes between China and South Korea. What the Koreans did this time hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and violated the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the Olympic Council of Asia," the official said, according to the China News.
  25. ^ Yonhap News, "Seoul asks Beijing to respond in composed manner to dispute over Mount Paektu", accessed 2 February 2007
  26. ^ The Korea Times, "Seoul Cautious Over Rift With China", accessed 2 February 2007
  27. ^ "Sports World Korea". Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  28. ^ National Geographic Information Institute, Ministry of Construction and Transportation, The National Atlas of Korea, Gyeonggi-do, (South) Korea, 2007, p. 14,
  29. ^ 네이버 뉴스 라이브러리 (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  30. ^ "Rumbling volcano sees N. Korea warm to the West". CBS News. Sep 16, 2014. 
  31. ^ "AAAAA Scenic Areas". China National Tourism Administration. 16 November 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]