Chinese Type-56 AK History
Though modern perception of Chinese made products is generally poor, or of cheap quality, nothing could be further from the truth in regards to Chinese manufactured AK pattern rifles, known as the "Type 56".
History of Chinese of AK-47s
After the development of the AK (AK-47), the Soviet Union shared its small arms technology with many countries of similar ideologies. Almost every country in the Warsaw Pact licensed and produced AK-47s and in 1955, China joined the party and also made a deal with the Soviet Union to develop Kalashnikovs as well as the popular SKS rifle.
Brief History and Development
Production for both rifles started in 1956. The first AK models were clones of the AK-47 type 3 and designated as the Type 56. The SKS clones were called the Type 56 Carbine.
The manufacturing of the Type-56 is believed to have started in the State Factory 66, with the very first rifles being produced using soviet tooling, and soviet parts. These rifles were made in small numbers for about a year or so, with mass production being in full swing by 1958. The Type-56 armed the People's Liberation Army, and replaced a wide range of old Soviet and Japanese rifles left over from WW2.
After the State Factory 66 started mass production, many other state-owned factories joined in, most prominently Factory 386, and Factory 416 where final assembly is thought to have been completed. As many as nineteen factories contributed to making parts. The numerical designations of Chinese state run factories were given to help mask their locations and purpose. Factory designations ending in the number 6 produced products for small arms. Triangle shaped designations were producing goods for the Chinese military while oval shaped designations were products intended for civilian use and commercial export. So a triangle designation with the number 66 inside of it would be a Chinese Type-56 that was built for the Chinese military.
Most of the early Type-56 rifles had a milled receiver like the Type-3 AK, with only some slight changes, mainly the top handguard, which did not have vent cutouts like the lower handguard. While China was producing the milled receiver Type-56, Russia was developing the AKM, which was completed in 1959. The AKM was imported to almost every country in the Warsaw pact, and many made their own copies in licensed variants as well. Relations between China and the Soviet Union was deteriorating around this time, so they did not give China a license or the plans to develop the AKM. Though the timeline is somewhat hazy, the Chinese eventually reverse engineered the new AKM and made the switch from the milled receiver to the stamped receiver rifles sometime between 1967 and 1970. When they released their new stamped receiver AK they maintained the same naming convention simply calling it the Type-56.
There were many differences in these newer Stamped receiver Type-56's. Most importantly, their receivers were made from 1.5mm sheet metal instead of 1mm sheet metal like the Soviet European rifles, and they had a heavier barrel as well. The Chinese also used a slightly different rivet pattern. They had a hooded front sight and many came with a folding spike bayonet commonly referred to today as the "Spiker".
For the earliest Milled receiver Type-56 rifles, there aren't many differences from a Russian AK-47, however, one of the main ways to identify them is that the front sight will be hooded. The hooded front sight is also an identifying feature of the stamped Chinese AK models as well as the rivet pattern on the front trunnion. The front of the trigger guard should have 2 rivets (one per side), instead of 4. The barrel should have fine ribbing instead of being smooth, and the rifles should have a blued finish instead of the more common paint over parkerize. As mentioned above, the receivers of the stamped variants will be .5mm thicker than their "Warsaw" counterparts. One of the more prominent and popular identifiers of Chinese Type-56 rifles is the folding spike bayonet. Not all rifles were fitted with the spiker though so it isn't a lone factor in identifying Chinese AK's. Type-56's that did not have the folding spiker were instead manufactured with the Type-1 bayonet lug.
Service Use/ Conflicts
Apart from serving the People Liberation Army into the 90s, the Type-56 has also been exported to many countries throughout the world and is still in service by some of them. Many Middle Eastern and African countries still use them as do countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Considering how many of these rifles were made and sold to other countries, its safe to say the Type-56 AK as made it to a lot of conflicts around the world. During the cold war, many of these rifles were also sold or in some cases given away to soviet countries and were used widely by Vietnamese guerilla fighters. Many US soldiers also brought Chinese AKs from Vietnam back to the US. These "transferable" rifles are very valuable today. In Southeast Asia, Type-56 rifles also made it to the Laotian Civil War, Cambodian Civil War, and the Communist insurgency in Thailand.
The Type-56 has also made it into the hands of many terrorist organizations. A lot of them were used in Afghanistan against both the Soviets and the Americans. They are also used in many civil wars in the Middle East, including the Iran–Iraq War, Syrian civil war, and the Iraqi Civil War.
In Europe, the Type 56 rifles made it to the Kosovo War and the Croatian War of Independence. Type-56 rifles can also be found in many small African conflicts. In short, the Type-56 has been used in conflict all over the world and is still in service today with many militaries worldwide.