March 25, 2022
For the past fifty-plus years, China has been the most prolific producer of Kalashnikov pattern rifles outside of Russia. In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union gave the manufacturing license for the Avtomat Kalashnikova rifle to China, the newest member of the Communist Bloc at the time. The Chinese began to produce the 7.62x39mm AK-47, designated as the Type 56, in 1956. It was initially issued as a submachine gun replacement only to officers and NCOs, essentially a chosen man’s weapon. Common solders were issued licensed copies of the Soviet 7.62x39mm SKS-45, designated Type 56 Carbine. This initial production pattern of the Type 56 is commonly referred as the Type 56-1. It has a milled receiver, and most were made with a fixed wooden stock. The stamped receiver, and an under-folder stock variant, became available in later production models.
The second pattern Type 56 was introduced in the early 1980s and it’s generally referred as the Type 56-2. This model was manufactured with a stamped steel receiver and most were made with a metal skeleton side-folding stock. The Type 56-2 pattern was developed partly to reduce manufacturing costs, and partly to speed up the rate of production. The Type 56-2 was quickly put into production as a replacement for the Type 56 carbine (SKS), which was being withdrawn from Chinese service. Both the older Type 56-1 and the Type 56-2 were re-designated as assault rifles and became general issue. The peak production years for the Type 56-2 were between 1981-1987. The Type 56-2 pattern is still in production today, mostly for foreign military export.
It should be noted that due to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, the Chinese were never licensed to produce the stamped receiver AKM. Due to this, all Chinese stamped receiver models were developed locally and based upon the original AK-47 pattern. The Type 56-1 and Type 56-2 stamped receivers were made from 1.5mm steel, unlike the 1mm steel used in the AKM’s receiver. For that reason, the Chinese stamped receiver models are on average heavier than the AKM. All models of the Chinese Type 56 series also lack the AKM’s rate-reducer mechanism.
Beginning in 1986 the Chinese military began replacing their Type 56s with an entirely new domestic design, the 7.62x39mm Type 81. The Type 81 is not a Kalashnikov, was better built, more accurate and offered modern features like a bolt hold-open device and thumb operated selector.
As the Chinese military began full-scale adoption of the new Type 81 rifles in the late 1980s, the Chinese Navy identified a problem. The Type 81 was too long for use in the tight confines of a ship’s interior. So, a call went out for development of a suitable carbine version of the Type 81 rifle. However, due to the Type 81’s long receiver design and short-stroke gas system, a costly and time consuming complete redesign of the platform was required to suitably shorten it. The Chinese designers quickly made the decision of switching to their fallback option – the older Kalashnikov based Type 56. Development of the new carbine officially began in 1988. It was completed in 1991, and full production followed shortly thereafter. Since it was the third pattern of the Type 56 design, the new carbine was named QBZ-56C or Qing Bu-Qiang Zi-Dong 56C (Small Arm, Rifle, Automatic, Type 56, model C). Note that the QBZ-56C is officially classified as “Short Assault Rifle” to prevent confusion with the older Type 56 Carbine, which is a licensed copy of the Russian Simonov SKS-45 carbine.
The Chinese Navy’s submarine force was the first recipient of the new weapon. The surface fleet received it next. The PAP, People’s Armed Police, the Chinese internal security paramilitary force also acquired large numbers of the new carbine to equip their specialized units. The PAP border patrol, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics units were issued with the QBZ-56C due to its short length. They often operate in urban areas or the jungles in Southern China. A short carbine like the QBZ-56C is not only easier to handle in those terrains, but it also looks less intimidating to the local civilians, which are often ethnic minorities. The newly formed PAP Coast Guard units, which were created to combat piracy in the South China Sea, were also issued the QBZ-56C. This was done for similar reasons as the Navy. The short length of the carbine is more suitable for ship-born operations and boarding parties. Various Special Forces units of the PLA have also added the QBZ-56C to their arsenal.
The QBZ-56C differs from the first and second pattern of the Type 56 in many areas. The biggest difference is in the receiver. The new carbine’s receiver is 0.81 inch shorter. It is also manufactured from a thinner 1.2mm steel stamping, instead of the 1.5mm thick steel used in the standard stamped receiver versions of the Type 56. A stronger grade of steel is used in the new receiver to compensate for the reduction in the wall thickness. The bottom of the receiver is tapered from the pistol grip to the handguard. The receiver cover is also shortened, and three reinforcing ribs were added to the top. The new receiver design helps in both reducing weight and shortening the total length of the weapon. Also, instead of using the less expensive bluing process of the standard Type 56, the QBZ-56C’s receiver is finished with a heavy parkerized coating. This is to better protect it from seawater and salt spray in a naval environment. The dark phosphate coating also gives the QBZ-56C a distinctive look comparing to other blued Type 56s.
To reduce to the weapon’s length, the barrel was shortened from 16.3 inches to 11 inches. That led to a 230 fps drop in muzzle velocity from 2,362 fps to 2,132 fps. When the Russians developed an AK carbine, the 5.45x39mm AKS-74U “Krinkov”, they went with a stubby 8.8-inch long barrel. The Chinese designers chose to keep a longer barrel in the QBZ-56C to enhance both exterior and terminal ballistic performance. A finely crafted combination flash suppressor/expansion chamber was fitted to the QBZ-56C’s barrel. This has a small expansion chamber which serves to decrease sound levels at the muzzle, and to let more propellant burn-off before leaving the barrel. Attached to the expansion chamber is a small birdcage-type flash suppressor which further breaks up the propellant gas at the muzzle. The size and shape of the flash suppressor prohibited the mounting of a bayonet on the QBZ-56C.
The gas system and the action have also been redesigned. An adjustable gas regulator was added to ensure the shortened gas system would function reliably. The user can adjust the gas system by inserting the rim of a 7.62x39mm case into the machined slot in the gas regulator and turning it. There are two settings on the gas regulator, with “1” for normal and “2” for higher gas pressure to use in adverse conditions or when the weapon is dirty. For greater corrosion protection the piston assembly and bolt group are chrome plated. The shorter gas system did lead to a slight increase in the rate of fire in full automatic from 650 rpm of the standard Type 56, to 700 rpm. A new three-piece telescoping recoil-spring guide-rod and progressive rate spring were also added. These came from the 5.8x42mm Type 87 rifle, an updated version of the 7.62x39mm Type 81. This combination of the telescoping recoil-spring, guide-rod and progressive rate spring provides a softer transition of the recoil force. The result is improved accuracy in semi-automatic and better controllability in full-automatic. The new spring guide-rod also features a redesigned receiver cover latch. It fixed the issues with the receiver cover coming lose due to wear or prolonged firing.
Another design influence from the Type 87 rifle is the use of polymer material in the QBZ-56C. The handguard, pistol grip and the folding buttstock insert are made from black polymer. The handguard is also shortened, and the new polymer pistolgrip is reshaped for better ergonomics. While the side-folding stock looks similar to the one used on the standard Type 56-2, it’s 0.59-inch shorter. Like the receiver, the folding stock is made from the same 1.2mm thick steel. The sights on the QBZ-56C came directly from the Type 81. It has a hooded front sight and a tangent rear sight protected by a square shaped metal hood. The rear sight has range adjustments of 100-300 meters. The selector is located on the right side of the receiver like all AK variants. The markings on the selector are the same as the current production Type 56 models with “D” for Dan (single) Semi-automatic, and “L” for Lian (continuous) for full-automatic.
With all the length and weight reductions in the new design, the QBZ-56C is only 30.12 inches long with its stock extended. With the stock folded this shrinks to just 22 inches. It’s also almost 2 pounds lighter, at 6.47 pound empty, than the standard stamped receiver Type 56. Each QBZ-56C carbine is issued with three standard 30-round AK magazines, and one 20-round short magazine for normal carry. However, because of all those improvements and the usage of new materials, the QBZ-56C costs significantly more to produce than the standard Type 56 rifle. The estimated manufacturing cost for the QBZ-56C is $300 USD. In comparison the standard Type 56 export model costs $100 and the newer Type 81 rifle between $175 and $200.
By the late 1990s, another new Chinese rifle became available, the QBZ-95 series. This chambered the newly developed 5.8x42mm small caliber high-velocity cartridge. The Type 95 series, with its bullpup configuration, offers the advantage of having a long barrel in a very compact body. The QBZ-95B, the carbine version of the Type 95, has a 12.8 inch barrel. Yet its total length is only 23.6 inches. The new bullpup also has the advantage of having a mounting rail for attaching optical sights and night vision equipment. In spite of this, the Chinese Navy didn’t replace the QBZ-56C with the new bullpup. The main reason being the Type 95 carbine costs twice as much the QBZ-56C. In addition, the Army, and other ground forces, had a higher priority for receiving both the new rifle, and more importantly, the new 5.8x42mm ammunition. Not until very recently did the Chinese Navy finally begin ordering the Type 95 carbine for their ship crews. This might also be due to the current effort by the Chinese military to totally phase out the 7.62x39mm cartridge from service. The availability of the ammunition is often more important than the weapon that uses it.
As a developmental platform, the QBZ-56C is the final Chinese Kalashnikov model fielded by the Chinese military. Nevertheless, as long as there is a market for cheap Type 56 export models, the Chinese arsenals will keep producing AKs.
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- Caliber: 7.62x39mm
- Overall Length: 30.12 inches and 22 inches with stock folded
- Weight: 6.47 pounds empty
- Operation: Adjustable long-stroke gas system with rotating bolt
- Barrel Length: 11 inches
- Sight: Hooded post front sight, hooded tangent rear sight
- Furniture: Black polymer
- Stock: Side-folding skeleton type with steel frame and polymer insert
- Finish: Parkerized receiver, chromed barrel, gas system and operation group
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,132 fps
- Rate of Fire: 700 rpm in full-automatic