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The first military “assault rifle” of communist China was of Soviet origin. Adopted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1956 as the “Type 56,” it was a Kalashnikov AK built using Soviet documentation and technical assistance. This was along with the Soviet SKS semi-auto carbine, which was also designated as the “Type 56.”

Following the political breakup between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), caused by changes in the Soviet political climate after Stalin’s death, Chinese designers were left on their own to develop new small arms. Their first effort, known as the Type 63 assault rifle, entered service in the mid to late 1960s. It was basically an SKS with AK-style rotating bolt, select-fire capability and a detachable box magazine. It was longer than an AK/Type 56 and, apparently, left something to be desired.

As a result, during the late 1970s, the PLA initiated the development of a new small arms system consisting of a standard infantry assault rifle, a rifle with a folding stock for paratroopers and mechanized troops, and a light machine gun/squad automatic weapon. The new small arms system was more or less an evolution of the Type 63 rifle, and it even shared the same magazines, which were incompatible with AK/Type 56 magazines. The Type 81 rifle and its derivatives (the folding-stock Type 81-1 rifle and the Type 81 light machine gun), apparently, were more successful and soon became the mainstay weapon of the PLA, while shorter and less accurate Type 56 rifles were relegated to more specialized duties.

Following the worldwide trend for small-caliber, high-velocity infantry rifles set by the U.S. and followed by the USSR, Chinese small arms experts also decided to decrease the caliber of their standard infantry rifles and squad weapons. Despite the availability of already-proven small-caliber ammunition like the U.S. 5.56x45mm or Soviet 5.45x39mm, Chinese experts decided to develop their own indigenous round. After much testing and evaluation, Chinese designers settled on a bottlenecked, rimless round with a 5.8mm bullet and a 42mm-long steel case. Dubbed the 5.8x42mm “DBP-87,” it fires a 64-grain bullet at a nominal muzzle velocity of 3,050 fps. Early tests were conducted with Type 87 rifles, which were converted from 7.62mm Type 81s by installing new bolts, barrels and plastic furniture. Once the cartridge was ready, an entirely new family of indigenous small arms was adopted.

The first assault rifles of the new family, known as the Type 95 (QBZ-95), were observed in 1997 during the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong. Since then, 5.8mm Type 95 rifles, along with associated Type 95 carbines and Type 95 light machine guns, took over for the 7.62mm Type 81 rifle family as the major small arms system of the PLA. Apparently, the Type 95 system faced some teething problems, however, because in 2003 the PLA introduced a 5.8mm Type 03 rifle of traditional layout. As of now, Type 03 rifles are issued to some People’s Armed Police (PAP) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) units, while the PLA issues Type 95 small arms in the basic or improved Type 95-1 versions.

Over the years, China has exported many of its small arms. The Type 63 was exported only in limited numbers. The Type 81, on the other hand, has seen plenty of foreign sales, both in original select-fire versions (to countries such as Albania, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka) and in “civilian” semi-automatic variants. Bangladesh also obtained a manufacturing license for Type 81 rifles. The 5.8mm small arms system hasn’t seen any export sales yet, but Chinese state factories developed a dedicated export-only version of the Type 95 system, designated the “Type 97.” It fires 5.56mm NATO ammo and uses STANAG (M16-type) magazines. Select-fire versions of the Type 97 rifle were sold to some Third World countries, and semi-auto versions are offered worldwide through Norinco of China. The latest Norinco military sales catalogs also lists Type 03 rifles chambered for 5.56mm NATO ammo and adapted for M16-type magazines.

Type 81 SPECS

  • Caliber: 7.62x39mm
  • Barrel: 17.5 inches
  • OA Length: 37.6 inches
  • Weight: 7.7 pounds
  • Action: Piston operated
  • Rate Of Fire 650 rpm
  • Capacity: 20+1, 30+1

Type 9SPECS

  • Caliber: 5.8x42mm
  • Barrel: 18.2 inches
  • OA Length: 30 inches
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • Action: Piston operated
  • Rate Of Fire 650 rpm
  • Capacity: 30+1

Type 63 SPECS

  • Caliber: 7.62x39mm
  • Barrel: 20.5 inches
  • OA Length: 40.5 inches
  • Weight: 7.7 pounds
  • Action: Piston operated
  • Rate Of Fire 750 rpm
  • Capacity: 20+1, 30+1

Type 95-1 SPECS

  • Caliber: 5.8x42mm
  • Barrel: 18.2 inches
  • OA Length: 30 inches
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • Action: Piston operated
  • Rate Of Fire 650 rpm
  • Capacity: 30+1

Type 03 SPECS

  • Caliber: 5.8x42mm
  • Barrel: 20.5 inches
  • OA Length: 28.5-37.4 inches
  • Weight: 7.7 pounds
  • Action: Piston operated
  • Rate Of Fire 650 rpm
  • Capacity: 30+1

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