Baitou Mountain

Baekdu Mountain

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.

One of the highest crater lakes in the world, called Heaven Lake (천지, 天池), lies at the top of the mountain.


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.

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


The weather on the mountain can be very erratic. The annual average temperature at the peak is about -8.3 degrees Celsius. During summer, temperatures of about 18 degrees Celsius can be reached, and during winter temperatures can drop to -48 degrees Celsius. Average temperature is -24 degrees Celsius in January, 10 degrees Celsius in July, remaining below freezing for eight months of the year. Average wind speed is 11.7 meters per second, reaching an average of 17.6 m/s in December. Relative humidity averages 74%. In recent decades, there has been significant climate warming on the mountain. 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 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 Baekdu/Changbai 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's 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 Canonical Book of the Tang Dynasty, it was called Taibai Shan (太白山, the Grand Old White Mountain). The current Chinese name Changbai Shan(長白山, Perpetually White Mountain)was first used in the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) and then the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).

The Jurchen Jin Dynasty (11151234) 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.


Koreans consider Mount Baekdu as the place of their ancestral origin and as a sacred mountain, one of the three “spirited” mountains; 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 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.

Border disputes

Because of the continuous entry of Korean people into Gando, a region in Manchuria that lay between the Tumen and Yalu Rivers, in 1712, Manchu and Korean officials surveyed the area and negotiated a border agreement. 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 Qing and Japan (Japan responsible for Korea’s foreign affairs according to Eulsa Treaty, later declared null and void by 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 60% and gaining approximately 230 km² in the treaty.

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 whole mountain as Chinese territory. These groups object to China's use of Changbai Mountain, which has been used since Liao Dynasty and the earlier Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). However, in more pre-modern eras this mountain was known and referred to as BaiTou Mountain (the Chinese literation of "Baekdu Mountain") by the Chinese residents of the mountain themselves, Changbai mountain seems to be a more recent (mere decades ago) renaming of Baekdu (BaiTou) Mountain. Some groups also regard the entire mountain as Korean territory that was given away by North Korea, when the Japanese sold this land without any Korean consent in the deal of 1909. Both European maps and Chinese maps dating before the annexation of Baekdu Mountain and Gando show these areas to be under Chosun control.

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.


Foreign visitors, mostly South Koreans, usually climb the mountain from the Chinese side, although Baekdu Mountain is a common tourist destination for the few foreign tourists in North Korea.

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.

See also


Further reading

  • Hetland, E.A. et al. (2004). "Crustal structure in the Changbaishan volcanic area, China, determined by modeling receiver functions". Tectonophysics 386 (3-4): 157–175.

External links

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