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Mount Paektu

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Earth : Asia : East Asia : North Korea : Baekdu Mountains : Mount Paektu
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Mount Paektu

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Mount Baekdu (백두산 Paektusan/Baekdusan in Korean, 长白山 Chángbái Shān in Chinese) is a mountain on the Chinese-North Korean border. It is part of the Baekdu mountain range.


A dormant volcano which last erupted in 1903, with a vast crater lake at its centre, it is the country's highest mountain at 2744m (9000ft), and also of huge mythical importance to Koreans.

The huge crater lake called Chonji ("Lake of Heaven") lies at the summit, surrounded by bare rocky crags. It is one of the deepest alpine lakes in the world, and also one of the coldest.

The Chinese side of the mountain, which occupies half of the caldera lake as well, is a lot more accessible and much more inexpensive to visit than North Korean side.


In Korean mythology it is where the Son of God descended to earth and established the first Korean city of Asadal, "morning land", hence the English phrase "land of the morning calm", itself originating from "Joseon", the Chinese translation of Asadal. The Manchus tell a similar tale, except this descendant of God established the state of Manju (Manchu), a reference to Manjusri, a Bodhisattva. It's uncertain if the stories are referring to the same person or even the same mountain, as the Korean version predates the founding of the state of Manchu and despite Manchus claiming kinship with Koreans, it was not a sentiment that was reciprocated. In any case as the mythical birthplace of the Manchu state, the mountain was off limits to Han Chinese settlers for most of Qing China's history, unintentionally making it a nature reserve. After the annexation of Korea in 1910 by Imperial Japan, the mountain was associated with Korean independence fighters who made it as a base of operations throughout the Japanese occupation. Utilizing its history and symbolism among the Korean psyche, North Korea's Kim Jong-il would appropriate the mountain's mythology, claiming the mountain as his birthplace as well; this is in spite of the evidence of him being born in the North Korean logging camp "Vyatskoye" (Вя́тское), northeast of Khabarovsk Krai.

In 1962, the mountain was "split" and given to China by North Korea in a border agreement, which to this day remains highly controversial in South Korea. South Korea does not acknowledge the agreement. Indeed, well of aware of a previous united Korea's (Joseon and especially Goryeo) border disputes and military excursions aimed reclaiming lost Goguryeo territory which stretched to parts of modern day Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang province, China preemptively launches the Northeast Project in 2002, a government-backed history revisionist initiative that reduces Goguryeo from an independent state to a local ethic minority government à la the Jurchens of the Later Jin dynasty, as a means to nullify Korea's claims.

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