the sacred "White-Head Mountain" of the Far-North
Left: The peak from above, frozen in winter,
with the Chinese name of Cheonji Lake
displayed, from a geography website.
|I have not yet been there; these images are from North Korean tourism brochures.
|Cheonji-ho in the winter, a sight few people ever get to see (KNTO photos)
The Korean name Baekdu-san / 백두산 / 白頭山 means "White-Head Mountain", because the
summit area is never without some snow-ice-cover and the treeless crags there are grey-white,
while white is the most sacred color to Koreans; and "head" is fairly commonly used for the
Korean names of prominent peaks, such as "Yongdu-san" [Dragon's-head Mtn], there is a
sense of seniority or leadership implied. 白頭山 is pronounced in Chinese "Baitou-shan".
North Korea's southern and eastern sector of the vast slopes and great lake (60%~40%,
depending on which source you consult), is now preserved and used for (mostly domestic)
tourism as the DPRK's "Baekdu-san National Park".
However, its contemporary name to the Chinese is Changbai-shan / 长白山 or 長白山 similarly
meaning "Always-White Mountain". In the Manchu language it is "Golmin Shanggiyan Alin",
with the same meaning as in Chinese, "Perpetually-White Mountain". Their northern and
western sector of the massive mountain (40%~60%, depending on which source you consult),
is now preserved and used for tourism as China's "Changbai-shan National Park".
|the Geumgang-pokpo [Diamond Waterfall] spills out of Cheonji Lake and creates the Duman-gang
[Tumen River] which runs east as Korea's natural border with northernmost China and then Russia
|statues at a Folk-Daoist shrine along the trail to the peaks on the Chinese side
the Jangbaek-pokpo [Guardian-White Waterfall]
pours from the western side of Cheonji Lake, serving
as the source of the Amnok-gang [Yalu River] which
runs west as Korea's natural border with Manchuria
|a North Korean photo said to be of deer bucks in a gyegok [scenic gorge] of Baekdu-san
|a view from the Chinese side, of the "Tianchi-he" of "Baitou-shan"
| Concerning the Baekdu-san Sanshin, which surely must be regarded as one of the nation's
greatest folk-deities, all that i know about it is:
This great mountain was not part of Korean territory for most of the united Korea's history since
around 700. It has always been a remote wilderness area, with very little human habitation until
the 20th century.
I do not know of any traditional or modern Buddhist temples or shaman shrines (or any other
spiritual sites) on the Korean side of the mountain. I have never seen any artwork that purports
to be an image of the Baekdu-san Sanshin. If one was ever found, a Sanshin-gak containing
an icon, I would regard it as an epochal important find.
It is also a sacred mountain to the Manchu & etc peoples on their side of it, and I have heard from
those who have been on the tourist trips to climb it from the Chinese side that there are some
shrines along the trailway (one photo above) -- some of those shrines are probably Chinese-style
Sanshin shrines, but I have no specific information.
In the grand Neo-Confucian theory of the Baekdu-daegan Range, where all the mountains of
Korea are one great family, Baekdu-san is regarded as the grand ancestral patriarch, while
Jiri-san is regarded as the corresponding grand ancestral matriarch. But I have never seen any
artwork depicting the northern end of this concept.
Those who regard this mountain as the "Taebaek-san" location of the first and second parts of
the Dan-gun Myth might also regard that king or his father Hwaneung to be the Sanshin of it;
but I have never seen any artwork depicting that.