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 southern 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 "Changbai-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), probably modern -- 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 Hwan-eung to be the Sanshin of it;
but I have never seen any artwork depicting that.
|Baekdu-san from the plataeu on its south, by Roger Shepherd in September 2019