Baekdu Mountain, also known as Changbai Mountain in China, is a volcanic mountain on the border between China and North Korea, located at . At 2,744 m, it is the highest mountain of the Changbai mountain range to the north and Baekdudaegan mountain range to the south. It is also the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula and Manchuria.
The Korean name, Baekdu-san (백두산, 白頭山), means "white-headed mountain". The Chinese name, Changbai Shan (長白山/长白山) and the Manchu name, Golmin Šanggiyan Alin mean "perpetually white mountain". English-language volcanology resources often refer to the mountain as Baitoushan from the Chinese pinyin rendering of the Hanja 白頭山. Other alternative names include Paektu-san and Bai Yun Feng.
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. 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. Sixteen peaks exceeding 2,500 m surround Heaven Lake. The crater lake was probably created in 1597, when a recorded eruption took place. Volcanic ash from this eruption has been found as far away as the southern part of Hokkaidō of Japan. The lake has a circumference of 12 to 14 kilometres, with an average depth of 213 m and maximum depth of 384 m. From mid-October to mid-June, the lake is covered with ice.
There are five known species of plants in the lake on the peak, and some 168 were counted along its shores. 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 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 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. During the Manchu Qing Dynasty, the Kangxi Emperor designated Changbai Mountain as the legendary birthplace of the imperial family Aisin Gioro following a survey, although it is no longer supported. He set a forbidden zone around the mountain, although it was still in dispute whether it was part of Korea (Joseon) or China. The Qing Dynasty held annual rites for the mountain, as did the earlier Jin Dynasty.
The legendary beginning of Korea's first kingdom, Gojoseon (2333 BCE–108 BCE), takes place here. Buyeo (2nd c. BCE - 494), Goguryeo (37 BCE - 668), and Balhae (698 - 926) kingdoms also considered the mountain sacred.
The Goryeo dynasty (935–1392) first called the mountain Baekdu , 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.
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, although records outside of North Korea show that these events took place a short distance within the borders of the Soviet Union.
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. Finally, South Korea had ended this issue before making the dispute become a source of friction between South Korea and China. The athletes' gesture did not become a big issue such as Liancourt Rocks and the Sea of Japan naming dispute. But, there are still many Koreans who will continue to claim the mountain should be returned to Korean dominion.
There are a number of monuments on the North Korean side of the mountain. Paektu 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 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.