The border between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China is 1,420km long and runs along the course of the Amnok River (known in China as the Yalu River) and the Tumen River. The two rivers are separated by Paektusan (Mt. Paektu) which also straddles the border.
DPRK/China Border | Credit: Planet Labs
There are 13 official border crossing points between these two socialist countries, once described by Chairman Mao as being “as close as lips and teeth”. Some of the largest crossings are open to foreigners whilst others seem only to exist for locals or for official business. On the DPRK side, many of these crossings are nearby (or in some cases, in) towns or cities; this makes international trade easier since foreign goods can be quickly loaded onto the Korean State Railway network (the spine of North Korea’s domestic transport infrastructure) and moved to its destination.
What follows is a list of border crossings, some small local crossings and others large and significant, spanning from the West Sea at Sinuiju/Dandong to the far-east at the Rason/Jingxin border near Russia.
Musan, North Hamgyong. Seen from China
Dandong/Sinuiju Border Crossing
The border crossing between Sinuiju and Dandong is the most important crossing for the DPRKs international trade. Most foreign imports come through China and this crossing marks the main overland route between the two countries.
Most specifically, the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, built between 1937 and 1940, serves as the most-used overland crossing between the two countries. The bridge was attacked repeatedly during the Korean Conflict by USAF bombers as they attempted to limit the Chinese military from entering the peninsula to support the Korean People’s Army.
There is another bridge, known as the Yalu River Broken Bridge which was destroyed during the bombing. The bridge, originally constructed in 1911 by the Japanese, has not been repaired and today serves as a tourist site for Chinese visitors who wish to peer over the river into the city of Sinuiju on the opposite bank.
Further downstream from the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge is the New Yalu River Bridge. This project began in 2011 and, at time of writing, is yet to see active use. The new modern bridge is 3km long and runs between Dandong and the outskirts of Sinuiju. The new bridge is much larger than the Friendship Bridge it is planned to replace. The new bridge is cable-stayed, meaning it has two large white towers from which cables support the main road bridge. The bridge’s opening has been delayed numerous times, but recently the area on the DPRK side has been developed and a new road built to link the bridge to the Sinuiju road network. Prior to this extension, the bridge ended abruptly in a field on the DPRK side.
The new bridge will carry with it the possibility of increased DPRK-China trade. This new capability means Pyongyang will have a chance to grow its economy in the event that international sanctions are relaxed (or violated) and the country can resume importing and exporting goods over the Amnok (Yalu) River.
Dandong, China (Left) and Sinuiju, DPRK (Right)
Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge
Changdian/Chongsu Border Crossing
Not far north of Sinuiju along the Amnok river sits the small border town of Chongsu in Sakju county. The towns hosts the second border crossing point along the river with a railway bridge spanning the width of the river. The bridge is around 600m in length and links Chongsu with Changdian on the Chinese side.
There are small customs posts on both sides of the bridge and a small railway station on the DPRK side. Chongsu station is the final stop on the Pyongbuk line which runs from Chongju, North Pyongan up to the border. The first stop on the Chinese side is Shanghekou on the Fengshang Railway. For this reason, the bridge is known as the Upper Hekou Railway Bridge. The ‘upper’ part of the name is due to another bridge named the Hekou Bridge which existed slightly further downstream; it is still present although broken and out of use.
Chongsu railway crossing
Chongsu rail bridge over the Amnok River
Ji’an/Manpo Border Crossing
At the border between Manpo, DPRK and Ji’an City, China is another railway bridge. The Ji’an Railway Bridge runs for 589 metres and was constructed between 1937 and 1939 by the Japanese occupation between Japanese-controlled Korea and the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. A large stone arch was completed in 2004 on the Chinese side over the bridge to mark the land border.
Much like the crossing at Chongsu, the railway line over the bridge links in directly to the Korean State Railway Manpo Chongnyon. Manpo is the terminus of the Manpo Line and Pukpu line which run to Sunchon (near Pyongsong) and Hoeryong on the DPRK-China border in North Hamgyong respectively. Much like Sinuiju, this means goods can be transported directly from the border to elsewhere in the country quickly by rail.
Slightly further upstream is another bridge between Manpo and Ji’an. This is a road bridge rather than a rail bridge and connects the Chinese side with the centre of Manpo.
Rail bridge (Left) and road bridge (Centre)
Rail bridge into Manpo, Chagang
Linjiang/Chunggang Border Crossing
Sitting at the northernmost point of Chagang Province is the small town of Chunggang. The Linjiang Yalu River Bridge is north of the town and spans a distance of just over 200m. There is much more infrastructure on the Chinese side although the DPRK side of the bridge ends in a seemingly quite extensive customs post. The Chinese side ends in east-Linjiang.
The bridge was constructed in 1938 by the Japanese (as with many bridges over the Amnok). The town of Chunggang is also the site of the Chunggang Revolutionary Site dedicated to Kim Hyong Jik, the father of the President Kim Il Sung who, according to official history, committed anti-Japanese revolutionary activities in the region straddling the border between Japanese-occupied Korea and Manchuria. There is a monument and museum in the town focused on the site and Kim Hyong Jik.
Chunggang Border Crossing
Official building on the DPRK side
Changbai/Hyesan Border Crossing
The city of Hyesan is the provincial capital of Ryanggang Province and is also the site of the Changbai-Hyesan International Bridge. The bridge is a road bridge and runs between the city of Changbai and downtown Hyesan. The customs offices on the DPRK-side of the border are uncharacteristically close to the rest of the city being only two buildings away from the central square. The city’s memorial to the Battle of Pochonbo is also very close to the bridge. The tip of the huge monument is visible over the treeline from the Chinese side of the border.
Despite not being a major border crossing for imports or exports, the bridge was restored in 1985 having originally been constructed by the Japanese in 1936 (notice a trend yet?) but damaged extensively during the Korean Conflict. Next-door but one to the customs office in Hyesan is the Ryanggang Provincial Theatre which is clearly visible from China as it backs onto the Amnok river.
Hyesan (Right) and Changbai (Left)
Ryanggang Provincial Art Theatre and Pochonbo Monument (Right)
Samjiyon Border Crossing
The only true land-border between the DPRK and China. This crossing at the base of Mt Paektu is meant to serve the city of Samjiyon in Ryanggang Province. It is situated along the small portion of the border which is marked arbitrarily rather than along the course of a river. Only a few miles away, the Tumen river, which flows from Paektusan, serves as the border all the way to Russia and the East Sea. At the Samjiyon crossing, the river is too small to serve as a border and so a series of straight lines drawn on a map act as the official border.
The crossing is surrounded by dense forest and has a small customs station consisting of 5 small buildings on the DPRK side. The Chinese customs office is slightly larger although further away from the border itself. From the border, a road runs directly to the city of Samjiyon past the regional Samjiyon Airport and via the Samjiyon Grand Monument.
From this point on, crossings between the DPRK and China over the Tumen river become more commonplace.
Overland DPRK-China crossing near Samjiyon
Road up to the crossing
Taehongdan Border Crossing
The border crossing in Taehongdan county in the far north-east of Ryanggang Province is situated not in the town of Taehongdan itself, but up the road near the border between Ryanggang and North Hamgyong Province. The relatively small road bridge links the DPRK with Shangtiancun in China. The crossing point is located at the point where a tributary river meets the Tumen river.
Crossing near Taehongdan in Ryanggang Province
Chinese side of the Taehongdan crossing
Small DPRK town on the border
Nanping/Musan Border Crossing
There is a small road bridge between China’s Nanping and North Hamgyong Province’s countryside north of the town of Musan. Each side of the bridge has a relatively significant customs presence. The crossing links to a road which runs directly south to Musan which is a terminus station for two Korean State Railway lines.
The crossing, north of the city of Musan
Musan, seen from the Chinese side of the Tumen river
Sanhe/Hoeryong Border Crossing
Hoeryong is a city on the northern border of North Hamgyong province. Slightly north of the city is the border crossing over the Tumen river which links the city to Sanhe, China. The crossing is a road bridge. Hoeryong is one of the largest cities in North Hamgyong Province and the only city to have it’s own border crossing. The city is the site of Kim Jong Suk’s native house and much of the city is visible from the Chinese side of the Tumen river.
Crossing north of Hoeryong, North Hamgyong
DPRK customs offices in Hoeryong
Kaishantun/Sambong Border Crossing
The current bridge over the Tumen river between Sambong, DPRK and Kaishantun, China used to be part of a railway network built by the Japanese during the occupation. The rail line on the Chinese side of the border formerly crossed over the bridge to join the Korean railway network at Sambong, today a station on the Hambuk Line of the Korean State Railway. The railway crossing was closed in 1945.
The bridge remains in place as a road bridge, although, due to the remote nature of Sambong in the DPRK, it is unlikely that the crossing sees much use. The nearest city, Hoeryong, has its own border crossing with China and the larger Chinese city of Tumen, not far upstream, operates its own series of border crossings.
Unless the railway is reconnected, this crossing will likely remain an isolated bridge with two separated railway lines visible from the opposite bank.
Kaishantun (Left) and North Hamgyong countryside (Right)
Hambuk Line running along the Tumen riverbank
Tumen/Namyang Border Crossing
There are currently two active border crossings between the Chinese Tumen City and the DPRK’s Namyang. This crossing point is one of the few open to foreigners from outside the DPRK or China.
There is a road bridge which is currently, at time of writing, being replaced by a larger road bridge being built immediately next to the current one. Namyang is a relatively small town, seemingly devoted entirely to the border crossing.
The road bridge ends almost directly in front of Namyang railway station on the Hambuk line which is the station to and from which train services operate over the Tumen-Namyang Railway Bridge. This bridge is much smaller than the its road-counterpart and is more typical of a bridge built by the Japanese occupation.
Namyang, much like Sinuiju, is an important point for importing and exporting goods between the DPRK and China. The close links to the Korean State Railway network mean goods can be easily transported to nearby locations. The Hambuk line runs directly from Namyang to the Rason Special Economic area and Chongjin, the provincial capital.
Namyang (Right) and Tumen City (Left)
Road bridge between Tumen City and Namyang
Sanjiazi/Kyongwon Border Crossing
A small road bridge between the relatively isolated towns of Kyongwon, DPRK and Sanjiazi, China. The Shatouzi bridge has a very small customs building on the DPRK side. Travellers into the DPRK over the bridge can transfer onto the Hambuk Line from Saebyol station which runs between Chongjin and Rason via Hoeryong.
The road bridge linking China with the countryside of North Hamgyong
Rason SEZ Border Crossing
The only border crossing between China and the Rason Special Economic Area was constructed by the Japanese in 1938. The bridge over the Tumen river is located nearby the DPRK-China-Russia border tri-point, just beyond which is the DPRK-Russia friendship bridge between Tuman and Khasan.
The bridge is likely used by Chinese officials and businessmen travelling between China and the Rason region. The area is open to foreign direct investment and there are numerous foreign businesses operating in the area. Most individuals likely travel to Rason through either this crossing or the Russian border at Khasan. The port of Rajin in Rason also operates two Chinese-owned ports which need to be accessed by Chinese business officials.
Crossing over the Tumen River into the Rason Special Economic Zone
DPRK-China bridge into Rason