Written by board member ArchivistDickCHINESE, YES! BUT, WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?OVERVIEW
This sticky seeks to clarify an obscure and difficult subject. Information contained herein is based upon observation, conversation, and study of open source material. Regard this as a guide only.
One reads much commentary and many questions about military versus commercial rifles. It is unfortunate that a false distinction receives such play because the ratio of military to truly commercial Chinese production is approximately 95 to five here in North America; in China it is 100 per cent military. And it is quite easy to distinguish one from the other.
We are wont to forget it is communists who run mainland China, most especially its industrial output, and even more specifically martial equipment and supplies. Communists everywhere find commercial activity anathema to their political belief system. Within the past fifteen years or so, Chinese communists are seen to engage more and more in satisfying perceived supply and demand abroad, but not at home. There is no indigenous, Chinese, civilian market for small arms.
A second myth holds that “production of Chinese Type 56 Carbines ceased in the early 1970s.” There is absolutely no evidence that anything of the kind ended during the 1970s, rather there is much pointing to the opposite as true, that production accelerated while becoming even more geographically diverse than before. It is quite reasonable to assume the Chinese are building new Simonov rifles today, in 2005, because we do know the People’s Liberation Army (hereafter PLA) continues issuing them to troops for training and for service in outlying provinces.PLA MILITARY SURPLUS RIFLES
Introduction: This category includes Type 56 Carbines produced at state-owned/controlled arsenals located across the Peoples’ Republic of China expressly for issue to soldiers of People’s Liberation Army, 1956 to the present.
Features: Original or – more commonly -- replacement parts commonly associated with SKS rifles.
Identifiers: Arsenal cartouche, set of three Chinese ideographs (left side of receiver).
Numbers: Quite common, the majority of ChiCom SKSs exported to North America, 1984-94.
- Carbines built in the 1956-65 period will display a factory cartouche to the right of the serial number. In 1966, these relative positions were reversed in order to preserve the continued integrity of the PLA’s date-of-manufacture marking system (add first two digits of serial to 56 to derive year).
- The PLA’s date-of-manufacture marking system seems to have been consistently followed across the constellation of state arsenals (? 150 plants ?) until the 24xxxxxxx series. Thereafter some carbines will be feature a serial beginning with “78” through “94” which expresses a more readily recognized vintage statement. 1995 production was blocked from the U.S. market so this writer can merely guess “95” serials and upwards do, in fact, exist.
- The set of three Chinese ideographs alluded to above translate: “Type 56.” They were introduced in 1963 to distinguish the SKS from an indigenous automatic rifle of close relation and resemblance. Expect to find these characters on rifles manufactured 1963-present.
- Highly sought after “Sino-Soviet” (first year – 1956 -- production) rifles will, therefore, not bear a set of three Chinese ideographs, but they will have a serial number commencing with a non-numerical character of some sort (Latin, Russian, Chinese, whatever) presented to the left of a /26\ arsenal cartouche.
- A Sino-Soviet must come from /26\. Most of these well-built guns will have been thorough arsenal rebuilt during the 1980s and therefore contain features commonly associated with late production Type 56 Carbines (i.e., spike bayonets, stamped trigger groups).
- Some analysts pay close attention to markings presented on rear leaf sight assemblies. This could be a mistake due to the fact a very large proportion of PLA-issue Type 56 Carbines were subjected to thorough arsenal rebuilding prior to consignment to long term storage in the early- and mid-1980s, and rear leaf sights were commonly replaced at that time.[/list:o]
NON-PLA MILITARY SURPLUS RIFLES
Introduction: This category includes Type 56 Carbines produced at state-owned/controlled arsenals located across the Peoples’ Republic of China to be provided as lend-lease to Beijing supported national liberation movements abroad (M-21 stamped), and foreign armies aligned with Communist China (B, P, and possibly K stamped), periodically under contract or by state-mandated plan.
Features: Original parts commonly associated with SKS rifles.
- No arsenal cartouche, no Chinese ideographs, Latin-alphabet DB, DP, DK, or M-21 stamped on left side of receiver as prefixes. It is suspected “B” represents Bangladesh, “P” represents Pakistan, and “K” represents Kampuchea. One sample examined reads “M-21 DP” so combinations of these figures may be encountered.
- D, P, X and other Latin characters appear occasionally as a suffix to a serial number upon an arsenal cartouched, PLA-issue weapon; their meaning is obscure although “X” appears to indicate a thorough arsenal rebuild and “P” may represent “accuracy rifle” cited in one published guide. Such suffixes do not identify a rifle in this category! Only prefixes count.
- Huge quantities of carbines were manufactured at Chinese arsenals intended for transfer to the People’s Army of Viet Nam and the so-called Viet Cong once the United States Air Force eliminated North Viet Nam’s limited production facility. They are usually indistinguishable from PLA-issue in most cases, bearing arsenal cartouches and Chinese ideographs. One sample has emerged that appears all original, set in a synthetic “jungle stock,” exhibiting a very uncommon arsenal cartouche, and a 1974 production date. As Beijing and Hanoi fully anticipated the war within the confines of the Republic of South Viet Nam to last for a number of years beyond that year, we can be reasonably confident that the rifle in question could well have been manufactured for lend-lease (non-PLA issue, in other words) only consigned to storage when international events took unexpected turnings. Such samples belong above and not in this category.[/list:o]
Comments: These weapons were built to the PLA-issue standard in all respects.
STATE PUBLIC SECURITY SURPLUS RIFLES
Introduction: This category includes Type 56 Carbines produced at three specific state-owned/controlled arsenals expressly for issue to soldiers of the National Public Security Forces and marked as such, 1970s to the present. Standard PLA-issue military surplus carbines were also used in huge numbers by this strictly party-controlled “private” army. This latter subset is composed of rifles bearing the “CJA” import stamp and do not command a premium upon resale.
Features: Original parts commonly associated with late model SKS rifles, such as spike bayonets, pinned barrels and stamped assemblies, subassemblies and parts.
Identifiers: Arsenal cartouche /26\, /016\, and, a set of three Chinese ideographs (left side of receiver), an addition set of two Chinese ideographs (right side of receiver), and a “KFS (Keng’s Firearms Specialties) Riverdale Georgia” import stamp.
Numbers: Quite uncommon.
Comments: These weapons were built to the highest standard.
PEOPLE’s MILITIA SURPLUS RIFLES
Introduction: This category includes Type 56 Carbines produced at provincial, county, or municipal factories working part time to supply needs of party-controlled militias, mid-1960s to the present.
Features: Original parts commonly associated with late model SKS rifles, such as spike bayonets, pinned barrels, and stamped assemblies, subassemblies and parts.
Identifiers: No arsenal cartouche, no Chinese ideographs, very short serial numbers (four or five digits), or serials beginning with an 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, or 94 stamped in a font larger than the remaining number and the word NORINCO presented in BIG letters after the serial on the left side of receiver.
Numbers: Relatively uncommon this side of the Pacific; very common over there where tens of millions remain in stores for a proverbial rainy day. The requirement to provide arms for hordes on reserve service is huge.
Comments: These weapons were built to a low standard. NORINCO is stamped on many PLA and Non-PLA issue military surplus rifles, of course, only not in so prominent a way as these Militia Surplus weapons.
PROFESSIONALLY BUBBA’d RIFLES
Introduction: This category includes PLA-issue carbines altered in China prior to export or in the United States by Navy Arms or one of the other major importers.
Features: Those associated with PLA rifles bearing one or more of the following –
- Milled away bayonet lug,
- Barrel shortened by 4-inches (“Carbines,” and “Paratroopers”),
- Scope rail riveted to right side of the receiver, with stock relieved of wood accordingly (several patterns of rail have been identified),
- Five-round capacity flush-fitting fixed magazine.[/list:o]
Identifiers: The above listed “features,” a certain names such as “Cowboy’s Companion,” “Hunter,” “Sharpshooter,” and “Sporter,” all of which serve as marketing devices.
Numbers: Relatively uncommon.
- These guns were reconfigured in a largely unsuccessful attempt to boost sales of ChiCom SKSs flooding the North American commercial market during the mid- and late-1980s. Sales had proven far more “soft” than anticipated with most buyers choosing civilianized AK-style rifles over military surplus Simonovs. Navy Arms Incorporated, of Bergen, New Jersey, and other importers appealed to Chinese providers for any – and all -- conceivable design changes that might boost sales and profitability. Nothing really worked until the Made-For-America Commercials (described below) came along.
- Most examples of this category exhibit high manufacture standard (for Chinese) and few were rebuilds prior to undergoing the bubba process.
- Generally, resale value on these well-done bubbas is not great with “Paratroopers” being the notable exception, yet some models are quite rare and this fact can boost price locally or nationally.[/list:o]
MADE-FOR-AMERICA COMMERICAL BUILDS
Introduction: This category includes rifles utilizing the Simonov-system of operation, only this time incorporating features not commonly associated with SKSs imagined in Beijing to be popular among prospective civilian owners in Canada and the United States, constructed at arsenals or local factories under state-mandated plan, 1988-94.
Features: Original parts not usually associated with SKS rifles, such as quick detachable magazines (SKS-D, SKS-M, MC-5D), detachable bayonets (SKS-D), thumbhole and Monte Carlo-style buttstocks (SKS-M, MC-5D).
Identifiers: Serial numbers ranging 89xxxxx to 94xxxxxx. No arsenal cartouches. No Chinese ideographs.
- Samples of Commercial Builds tend to made to a high standard.
- These weapons were designed, fabricated and shipped as a result of the general failure of all proceeding categories of rifles to sell in significant numbers here until mid- or late-1989. A Federal government import ban upon imports, caused by the criminal misuse of a firearm by a deranged person otherwise barred from legally owning his gun, sparked a hysterical buying spree across the United States. As Chinese civilianized Kalashnikov-style rifles vanished from store shelves these commercial builds arrived to fill a demand not anticipated in Beijing or Washington.[/list:o]
Richard Thomas Gould, Seattle, Washington