Paektu Mountain

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Mount Paektu
Mount Paektu8.jpg
A train travelling up Paektu
Highest point
Elevation 2,744 m (9,003 ft)
Prominence 2,593 m (8,507 ft)
Listing Country high point
Coordinates 42°00′20″N 128°03′19″E / 42.00556°N 128.05528°E / 42.00556; 128.05528Coordinates: 42°00′20″N 128°03′19″E / 42.00556°N 128.05528°E / 42.00556; 128.05528
Mount Paektu is located in North Korea
Mount Paektu
Mount Paektu
Location in North Korea, on the border with China.
Location Ryanggang, North Korea
Jilin, China
Mountain type Stratovolcano
Last eruption 1903[1]
Paektu Mountain
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Literal meaning Ever-white Mountain
Korean name
Literal meaning Whitehead Mountain
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡤᠣᠯᠮᡳᠨ ᡧᠠᠩᡤᡳᠶᠶᠠᠨ ᠠᠯᡳᠨ
Romanization Golmin Šanggiyan Alin

Paektu Mountain, Baekdu Mountain or Changbai Mountain, is an active volcano on the China–North Korea border. At 2,744 m (9,003 ft), it is the highest mountain of the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges. North and South Koreans consider the volcano and its caldera lake to be their countries' spiritual home.[2]

It is also the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast China.[3] A large crater lake, called Heaven Lake, is in the caldera atop the mountain. The caldera was formed by the VEI 7 "Millennium" or "Tianchi" eruption of 946, which erupted about 100–120 km3 (24–29 cu mi) of tephra. This was one of the largest and most violent eruptions in the last 5,000 years (alongside the Minoan eruption, the Hatepe eruption of Lake Taupo in around AD 180, the 1257 eruption of Mount Samalas near Mount Rinjani, and the 1815 eruption of Tambora).


The modern Korean name of the mountain, Mount Paektu (or Baekdu), was first recorded in the 13th historical record Goryeosa. It means white-head mountain. In other records from the same period, the mountain was also called Taebaek Mountain, which means great-white mountain. The modern name of the mountain in Chinese, Changbai Mountain, comes from modern Manchu name of the mountain, which is Golmin Šanggiyan Alin or Long/Ever White Mountain. Similarly, its Mongolian name is Ondor Tsagaan Aula, the Lofty White Mountain. In English, various authors have used non-standard transliterations.[4]

In Chinese, the mountain itself is known as Chángbáishān, which is the transliteration of Golmin Šanggiyan Alin. The mountain and Heaven Lake taken together are known as Báitóushān, which is the transliteration of Paektu Mountain.[5]

Geography and geology

Relief map

Mount Baekdu is a stratovolcano whose cone is truncated by a large caldera, about 5 km (3.1 mi) wide and 850 metres (2,790 ft) deep, partially filled by the waters of Heaven Lake.[1] The caldera was created in 946 by the colossal (VEI 7)[6] "Millennium" eruption.[7] Volcanic ash from this eruption has been found as far away as the southern part of Hokkaidō, the northern island of Japan. The lake has a circumference of 12 to 14 km (7.5 to 8.7 miles), with an average depth of 213 metres (699 ft) and maximum depth of 384 metres (1,260 ft). From mid-October to mid-June, the lake is typically covered with ice. In 2011, experts in North and South Korea met to discuss the potential for a significant eruption in the near future,[8] as the volcano explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903.[9] Despite political tensions, Western scientists have also worked with North Korean scientists to study the volcano.[10]

The geological forces forming Mount Paektu remain a mystery. Two leading theories are first a hot spot formation and second an uncharted portion of the Pacific Plate sinking beneath Mount Paektun.[11]

The central section of the mountain rises about 3 mm (0.12 in) per year due to rising levels of magma below the central part of the mountain. Sixteen peaks exceeding 2,500 m (8,200 ft) line the caldera rim surrounding Heaven Lake. 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 m (5,910 ft).

Water flows north out of the lake, and near the outlet there is a 70-meter (230 ft) waterfall. The mountain is the source of the Songhua, Tumen and Yalu rivers. The Tumen and the Yalu form the northern border between North Korea and Russia and China.


The weather on the mountain can be very erratic, sometimes severe. The annual average temperature at the peak is −4.9 °C (23.2 °F). During summer, temperatures of about 18 °C (64 °F) or higher can be reached, and during winter temperatures can drop to −48 °C (−54 °F). The lowest record temperature was −51 °C (−60 °F) on January 2, 1997. The average temperature is about −24 °C (−11 °F) in January, and 10 °C (50 °F) in July, remaining below freezing for eight months of the year. The average wind speed is 42 km/h (26 mph), peaking at 63 km/h (39 mph). The relative humidity averages 74%.[citation needed]


Mount Paektu has had at least two ignimbrite-forming eruptions in the past 5000 years. The tephra from the later eruption has been found in Greenland,[12] which agrees with the age of the Mount Paektu eruption. The eruption of 946 has been dubbed the "Millennium eruption", while the earlier eruption is referred to as the "Tianwenfen eruption".

Eruption of 946

Paektu Mountain's VEI 7 eruption in 946 (also known as the "Millennium eruption" or "Tianchi eruption") was one of the largest and most violent eruptions in the last 5,000 years, comparable to the 180 AD eruption of Lake Taupo and the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora. The eruption destroyed much of the volcano's summit, leaving a caldera that today is filled by Heaven Lake.

According to the Book of Koryo History[citation needed], "thunders from the heaven drum"[citation needed] (likely the explosions from the Millennium eruption) were heard in the city of Kaesong, and then again in the capital of ancient Korea about 450 km (280 mi) south of the Paektusan volcano, which terrified the emperor so much that the convicts were pardoned and set free[citation needed]. According to the book of Heungboksa Temple History, on November 3 of the same year in the city of Nara (Japan), about 1,100 km (680 mi) southeast from the Paektu, an event of "white ash rain" was recorded. Three months later, on 7 February 947, "drum thunders" were heard in the city of Kyoto (Japan), about 1,000 km (620 mi) southeast of Paektu, based on the written documentation in the book of Japan history.[7] The Tianwenfeng eruption also has been record in the Manchurian myths. Manchus described the Paektu Mountain as "Fire Dragon", "Fire Demon" or "Heavenly Fire".[13]

Tianwenfeng eruption

The age of the Tianwenfeng eruption is not clear, but the carbonized wood in Heifengkou's lag breccia has been dated at around 4105 ± 90 BP. This eruption formed large areas covered in yellow pumice and ignimbrite[14] and released about 23.14 million tonnes (25.51 million short tons) of SO2 into the stratosphere.[15] The bulk volume of the ejecta is at least 100 km3, making the Tianwenfeng eruption also of VEI 7.

Recent events

After these major eruptions, Mount Paektu had at least three smaller eruptions, which occurred in 1668, 1702, and 1903, likely forming the Baguamiao ignimbrite, the Wuhaojie fine pumice and the Liuhaojie tuff ring.[16]

In 2014, the Government of North Korea invited volcanologists James Hammond of Imperial College, London and Clive Oppenheimer of the University of Cambridge to study the mountain for recent volcanic activity. Their work is expected to last for "two or three years".[17]

Mount Baekdu, April 2003

Flora and fauna

Painting from the Manchu Veritable Records with the names of Mount Paektu in Manchu, Chinese and Mongolian
Mount Paektu on the Emblem of North Korea.

There are five known species of plants in the lake on the peak, and some 168 were counted along its shores. 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. There has been extensive deforestation on the lower slopes on the North Korean side of the mountain.

The area is a known habitat for Siberian tigers, bears, Amur leopards, wolves, and wild boars. The Ussuri dholes may have been extirpated from the area. Deer in the mountain forests, which cover the mountain up to about 2,000 meters (6,600 ft), are of the Paekdusan roe deer kind. Many wild birds such as black grouse, owls, and woodpecker are known to inhabit the area. The mountain has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a population of scaly-sided mergansers.[18]


Mount Baekdu has been worshipped by the surrounding peoples throughout history. Both the Koreans and Manchus consider it the place of their ancestral origin.[citation needed]


Mount Baektu was first recorded in the Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas under the name Buxian Shan (Chinese: 不咸山). It is also called Shanshan Daling (Chinese: 單單大嶺) in the Book of the Later Han. In the New Book of Tang, it was called Taibai Shan (Chinese: 太白山).[19] The current Chinese name Changbai Shan was first used in the Liao dynasty (907–1125) of the Khitans[20] and then the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) of the Jurchens.[21] The Jin dynasty bestowed the title "the King Who Makes the Nation Prosperous and Answers with Miracles" (Chinese: 興國靈應王) on the sanshin ("mountain spirit") in 1172 and it was promoted to "the Emperor Who Cleared the Sky with Tremendous Sagehood" (Chinese: 開天宏聖帝) in 1193.

The Manchu clan Aisin Gioro, which founded the Qing dynasty in China, claimed their progenitor Bukūri Yongšon was conceived near Paektu Mountain.


The mountain was considered sacred by Koreans throughout history. According to Korean mythology, it was the birthplace of Dangun, the founder of the first Korean kingdom, Gojoseon (2333–108 BC), whose parents were said to be Hwanung, the Son of Heaven, and Ungnyeo, a bear who had been transformed into a woman.[22] Many subsequent kingdoms of Korea, such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, Balhae, Goryeo and Joseon worshipped the mountain.[23][24]

The Goryeo dynasty (935–1392) first called the mountain Baekdu,[25] recording that the Jurchens across the Yalu River were made to live outside of Mount Paektu. The Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) recorded volcanic eruptions in 1597, 1668, and 1702. In 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.[26] Some Koreans claim that the entire region near Mount Paektu and the Tumen River belongs to Korea and parts of it were illegally given away by Japanese colonialists to China through the Gando Convention[citation needed].

Dense forest around the mountain provided bases for Korean armed resistance against the Japanese occupation, and later communist guerrillas during the Korean War. Kim Il-sung organized his resistance against the Japanese forces there, and North Korea claims that Kim Jong-il was born there,[27] although records outside of North Korea suggest that he was actually born in the Soviet Union.[28][29]

North Korea uses the mountain's mythology to promote government initiatives, as with the Paektusan rocket and the Paektusan computer.[30][31] The peak is featured on the Emblem of North Korea, defined in Article 169 of the Constitution, which describes Mt. Paektu as "the sacred mountain of the revolution".[32] The mountain is often referred to in slogans such as: "Let us accomplish the Korean revolution in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu!"[33] North Korean media even celebrates portentous natural phenomenon witnessed at the mountain.[34]

Border disputes

Historical border disputes

PRC-DPRK border around Paektu Mountain

According to Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the Yalu (鴨綠江) and Tumen Rivers (土門江/圖們江) were set as the borders in the era of the founder of Joseon Dynasty, Taejo of Joseon (1335–1408).[35] Because of the continuous entry of Korean people into Gando, a region in Manchuria that lay north of the Tumen, Manchu and Korean officials surveyed the area and negotiated a border agreement in 1712. 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 China and Japan, when Korea was under Japanese rule, 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 54.5% and gaining approximately 230 km2 in the treaty.[36]

Recent border 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 mountain as Chinese territory (both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China claim their regions' territory as their own).[37][38][39] These groups object to China's use of Mount Changbai, which has been used since Liao Dynasty[20] and the earlier Jin dynasty.[21] Some groups also regard the entire mountain as Korean territory that was given away by North Korea in the Korean War.[38] Both European maps and Chinese maps dating before the annexation of Mount Paektu and Gando show these areas to be under Korean Joseon Dynasty control.[40][41]

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 Baektu is our territory" (both North Korea and South Korea claim each other's countries' territory as their own). 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 claiming that the incident was accidental and held no political meaning.[42][43][44][45]

The 2007 official National Atlas of Korea[46] shows the boundary as per the 1962 agreement, roughly splitting the mountain and the caldera lake. However, South Korea, which claims all of North Korea as its territory, claims the caldera lake and the inside part of the ridge enclosing as South Korean territory.[47]


Foreign visitors, mostly South Koreans, usually climb the mountain from the Chinese side, although Mount Paektu is a common tourist destination for foreign tourists in North Korea. The Chinese touristic site is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.[48]

There are a number of monuments on the North Korean side of the mountain. Baekdu Spa is a natural spring and is used for bottled water. Pegae Hill is a camp site of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army (Chosŏn'gŭl조선인민혁명군; Hancha朝鮮人民革命軍) allegedly led by Kim Il-sung 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 of the way from the top.[citation needed] In 1992, on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Kim Il-sung, a gigantic sign consisting of metal letters reading "Holy mountain of the revolution" was erected on the side of the mountain. North Koreans claim that steps that lead to the top of the mountain contain 216 steps—symbolizing Kim Jong-il's date of birth, 16 February—but in reality there are more steps.[49]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Baekdusan". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  2. ^ Choe Sang-Hun (September 26, 2016). "For South Koreans, a Long Detour to Their Holy Mountain". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Ehlers, Jürgen; Gibbard, Philip (2004). Quaternary Glaciations: South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia, Antarctica. Elsevier. The Changbai Mountain is the highest (2570 m a.s.l.) in north-eastern China (42°N, 128°E) on the border between China and Korea. 
  4. ^ Examples: Paektu-san("Paektu-san: North Korea". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) (Korean 백두산("백두산: North Korea". Retrieved 4 October 2010. )), Ch'ang Pai,("Ch'ang Pai: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Chang-pai Shan,("Chang-pai Shan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Chōhaku-san,("Chōhaku-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō,("Hakutō: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō-san,("Hakutō-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Hakutō-zan,("Hakutō-zan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Paik-to-san,("Paik-to-san: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Mount Paitoushar,("Mount Paitoushar: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Paitow Shan,("Paitow Shan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) Pei-schan("Pei-schan: China". Retrieved 4 October 2010. ) and Bai Yun Feng.
  5. ^ ISBN 7-5031-2136-X p. 31
  6. ^ "Changbaishan". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Pan, Bo; Xu, Jiandong (2013). "Climatic impact of the Millennium eruption of Changbaishan volcano in China: New insights from high-precision radiocarbon wiggle-match dating" (PDF). Geophysical Research Letters. 40 (1): 54–59. Bibcode:2013GeoRL..40...54X. doi:10.1029/2012GL054246. 
  8. ^ Sam Kim, Yonhap (22 March 2011). "S. Korea agrees to talks on possible volcano in N. Korea". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "Vigil at North Korea's Mount Doom". Science Magazine. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Hammond, James (9 February 2016). "Understanding Volcanoes in Isolated Locations". Science & Diplomacy. 5 (1). 
  11. ^ "NERC - Science without borders". 
  12. ^ Sigl, M (2015). "Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years". Nature. 523 (7562): 543–49. Bibcode:2015Natur.523..543S. doi:10.1038/nature14565. PMID 26153860. 
  13. ^ Wei, Haiquan (2001). "Chinese Myths and Legends for Tianchi Volcano Eruption". Acta Petrologica et Mineralogica. 
  14. ^ 刘, 若新 (1998). 长白山天池火山近代喷发 (in Chinese). 科学出版社. ISBN 9787030062857. 
  15. ^ Zhengfu, Guo (2002). "The mass estimation of volatile emission during 1199–1200 AD eruption of Baitoushan volcano and its significance". Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences. 45 (6): 530. doi:10.1360/02yd9055. 
  16. ^ Wei, Haiquan (2013). "Review of eruptive activity at Millennium volcano, Paektusan, northeast China: implications for possible future eruptions". Bull Volcanol. 75 (4). Bibcode:2013BVol...75..706W. doi:10.1007/s00445-013-0706-5. 
  17. ^ "Rumbling volcano sees N. Korea warm to the West". CBS News. Sep 16, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Mount Paekdu". Important Bird Areas factsheet. BirdLife International. 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  19. ^ Second Canonical Book of the Tang Dynasty. 新唐書.北狄渤海傳》:"契丹盡忠殺營州都督趙翽反,有舍利乞乞仲象者,與靺鞨酋乞四比羽及高麗餘種東走,度遼水,保太白山之東北,阻奧婁河,樹壁自固。" (English translation: Khitan general Jinzhong Li killed Hui Zhao, the commanding officer of Yin Zhou. Officer Dae Jung-sang, with Mohe chieftain Qisi Piyu and Goguryeo remnants, escaped to the east, crossed Liao River, guarded the northeast part of the Grand Old White Mountain, blocked Oulou River, built walls to protect themselves.)
  20. ^ a b "Records of Khitan Empire". 《契丹国志》:"长白山在冷山东南千余里......禽兽皆白。"(English translation: "Changbai Mountain is a thousand miles to the southeast of Cold Mountain...Birds and animals there are all white.")
  21. ^ a b "Canonical History Records of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty". 金史.卷第三十五》:"長白山在興王之地,禮合尊崇,議封爵,建廟宇。""厥惟長白,載我金德,仰止其高,實惟我舊邦之鎮。" (English translation: "Changbai Mountain is in old Jurchen's land, highly respectful, suitable for building temples. "Only the Changbai Mountain can carry Jurchen Jin Dynasty's spirit; It is so high; It is a part of our old land.")
  22. ^ Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 22–25. ISBN 0-393-32702-7. 
  23. ^ "Korea Britannica" (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  24. ^ Song, Yong-deok (2007). "The recognition of mountain Baekdu in the Koryo dynasty and early times of the Joseon dynasty". History and Reality v.64. 
  25. ^ Goryeosa (King Gwangjong reign, 959)
  26. ^ "Yahoo Korea Encyclopedia". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  27. ^ "Moved". Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  28. ^ Sheets, Lawrence (12 February 2004). "A Visit to Kim Jong Il's Russian Birthplace". NPR. 
  29. ^ "Profile: Kim Jong-il". BBC News. 16 January 2009. 
  30. ^ Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 28, 435. ISBN 0-393-32702-7. 
  31. ^ Jager, Sheila Miyoshi (2013). Brothers at War – The Unending Conflict in Korea. London: Profile Books. pp. 464–65. ISBN 978-1-84668-067-0. 
  32. ^ Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (PDF). Amended and supplemented on April 1, Juche 102 (2013), at the Seventh Session of the Twelfth Supreme People's Assembly. Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 2014. p. 35. ISBN 978-9946-0-1099-1. 
  33. ^ "Decoding North Korea's fish and mushroom slogans". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  34. ^ "Wonders of nature". Korean Central News Agency. July 12, 1997. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. 
  35. ^ (in Korean)(in Chinese) 朝鮮王朝実録太祖8卷4年(1395年)12月14日 "以鴨綠江爲界。""以豆滿江爲界。"
  36. ^ 역사비평 (Historical Criticism), Fall 1992
  37. ^ Chosun Archived 17 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  38. ^ a b Donga.
  39. ^ Article 4 of the 7th Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China: The territory of the Republic of China, defined by its existing national boundaries, shall not be altered unless initiated upon the proposal of one-fourth of the total members of the Legislative Yuan, passed by at least three-fourths of the members present at a meeting attended by at least three-fourths of the total members of the Legislative Yuan, and sanctioned by electors in the free area of the Republic of China at a referendum held upon expiration of a six-month period of public announcement of the proposal, wherein the number of valid votes in favor exceeds one-half of the total number of electors.
  40. ^ Korea Focus.
  41. ^ Hankooki.
  42. ^ Chosunilbo China Upset with "Baekdu Mountain" Skaters "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 March 2007. Retrieved 15 March 2007.  "There are no territorial disputes between China and South Korea. What the Koreans did this time hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and violated the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the Olympic Council of Asia," the official said, according to the China News.
  43. ^ Yonhap News, "Seoul asks Beijing to respond in composed manner to dispute over Mount Paektu"[permanent dead link]. Retrieved 2 February 2007
  44. ^ The Korea Times, "Seoul Cautious Over Rift With China". Retrieved 2 February 2007
  45. ^ "Sports World Korea". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  46. ^ National Geographic Information Institute, Ministry of Construction and Transportation, The National Atlas of Korea, Gyeonggi-do, (South) Korea, 2007, p. 14,
  47. ^ 네이버 뉴스 라이브러리 (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-12-27. 
  48. ^ "AAAAA Scenic Areas". China National Tourism Administration. 16 November 2008. Archived from the original on 4 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  49. ^ Bärtås, Magnus; Ekman, Fredrik (2014). Hirviöidenkin on kuoltava: Ryhmämatka Pohjois-Koreaan [All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea] (in Finnish). Translated by Eskelinen, Heikki. Helsinki: Tammi. pp. 82–86. ISBN 978-951-31-7727-0. 

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): 157–75. Bibcode:2004Tectp.386..157H. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2004.06.001. 

External links

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