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Tumen River

Tumen River (图们江, )
Tuman or Duman River (두만강, 豆滿江)
Name origin: Mongolian, "ten thousand" or a myriad
Countries North Korea, China, Russia
Source Paektu Mountain
Mouth Sea of Japan
 - location Sea of Japan (East Sea), Russia, North Korea
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates
Length 521 km (324 mi)
Location of the Tumen River
Tumen River
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 圖們江
Simplified Chinese 图们江
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl 두만강
Hancha 豆滿江
Mongolian name
Mongolian Түмэн гол, Tümen gol
Manchu name
Manchu script
Romanization Tumen ula
Russian name
Russian Туманная река, Tumannaya Reka

The Tumen River, also called the Tuman River (Korean pronunciation: ; called the Duman in South Korea), is a 521-kilometre (324 mi) long river that serves as part of the boundary between China, North Korea and Russia, rising on the slopes of Mount Paektu and flowing into the Sea of Japan.

The river flows in northeast Asia, on the border between China and North Korea in its upper reaches, and between North Korea and Russia in its last 17 kilometers (11 mi) before entering the Sea of Japan. The river forms much of the southern border of Jilin Province in Northeast China and the northern borders of North Korea's North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. Baekdu Mountain on the Chinese-North Korean border is the source of the river,[1] as well as of the Yalu River (which forms the western portion of the border of North Korea and China).

The name of the river comes from the Mongolian word tümen, meaning "ten thousand" or a myriad. This river is badly polluted by the nearby factories of North Korea and China; however, it still remains a major tourist attraction in the area. In Tumen, Jilin, China, a riverfront promenade has restaurants where patrons can gaze across the river into North Korea.[1] The Russian name of the river is Tumannaya, literally meaning foggy.

In 1938 the Japanese built the Tumen River Bridge, where the Quan River meets the Tumen River, between the villages of Wonjong (Hunchun) and Quanhe. Important cities and towns on the river are Hoeryong and Onsong in North Korea, Tumen and Nanping (Nanpingzhen, 南坪镇, in Helong County-level city) in China.

In 1995, the People's Republic of China, Mongolia, Russia and South Korea signed three agreements to create the Tumen River Economic Development Area.[2][3][4]


A former island at the mouth of the Tumen, known as Noktundo, has been a boundary contention between Russia and North Korea.[5] The Qing Dynasty ceded the island to Russia as part of the Primorsky Maritimes (East Tartary) in the 1860 Treaty of Peking.[5] In 1990, the former Soviet Union and North Korea signed a border treaty which made the border run through the center of the river, leaving territory of the former island on Russian side. South Korea refuses to acknowledge the treaty and demanded that Russia returns the territory to Korea.[6]

Illegal crossings

The Tumen has been used for years by North Korean refugees defecting across the Chinese border. Most refugees from North Korea during the 1990s famine crossed over the Tumen River, and most recent refugees have also used it, as it is far easier than crossing the Yalu.[7]

The river is considered the preferred way to cross into China because, unlike the swift, deep and broad Yalu River which runs along most of the border between the two countries, the Tumen is shallow and narrow.[1] In some areas it can be crossed on foot, or by short swims.[1] It also freezes in winter allowing dry crossings.[7]

Defectors who wish to cross the Tumen often ignore its pollutants and dangerous border patrol, and spend weeks if not months or years waiting for the perfect opportunity to cross. "Long, desolate stretches of the Chinese-North Korean border are not patrolled at all", according to a New York Times article.[1]

Refugees rarely cross the Tumen into Russia. This is because Russia's short stretch of the river is far better patrolled than China's stretch.[1] In addition, there is no sizable ethnic Korean community in Russia to receive support from, as opposed to China, which has a larger Korean population.

The Tumen is also crossed illegally by soldiers and others seeking food and money. Some Chinese villagers have left the border area due to North Korean depredations.[7]

The humanitarian crisis along the Tumen River was dramatized in the 2010 dramatic feature-length film, Dooman River.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Onishi, Norimitsu (22 October 2006). "Tension, Desperation: The China-North Korean Border".   Much of the information comes from the captions to the large illustrated map published with the newspaper article and available online with it.
  2. ^ "Accord on Tumen River Area Development to Be Signed". (sourced from HighBeam Research)
  3. ^ "Tumen River Area Development Program". Network of East Asian Think-tanks (NEAT). 2009. Archived from the original on 15 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Kim, Myung-sung (14 January 2015). "최고 싱크탱크(think tank)도 "두만강 지역 개발하자" (From top think tank: "Let's develop the Tumen River area")". Chosun News (in Korean). Archived from the original on 15 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Головнин, В. И. (2008). "Прошлое как оружие (The past as a weapon)". Россия в глобальной политике (in Russian) 6 (35). Archived from the original on 6 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "The problem of the Noktundo island in the media in South Korea (Проблема острова Ноктундо в средствах массовой информации Южной Кореи)" (in Russian). Archived from the original on 10 September 2013. Retrieved 2015-06-30. 
  7. ^ a b c Zhai, Keith and Kim, Sam (14 January 2015). "North Koreans Walk Across Frozen River to Kill Chinese for Food". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on 15 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Bardot, Nicolas (2010). "La Rivière Tumen". Film de Culte (in French). Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
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