|MAKER:||State Arsenal 266 in Hilongjian Province (rifle), State Arsenal 356 in Yunnan Province (LMG)|
|OPERATION:||Adjustable short-stroke gas system, rotating bolt, hammer fired|
|FEED:||Thirty-round box magazine, 75-round drum, 20-round special-purpose magazine|
|BARREL LENGTH:||17.32 inches, LMG 20.47 inches|
|OVERALL LENGTH:||Rifle 37.7 inches, 28.74 inches with stock folded; LMG 39.53 inches|
|WEIGHT:||Rifle 7.7 pounds, LMG 11.4 pounds|
|SIGHTS:||Hooded post front, hooded tangent rear|
|SIGHT RADIUS:||Rifle 12.4 inches, LMG 21.26 inches|
|FURNITURE:||Wood or orange-color heat-resistant plastic|
The standard-issue rifle for the Chinese People's Liberation army for the past 20 years has been the Type 81 assault rifle, and it is often incorrectly labeled as a Chinese Kalashnikov variant.
The Type 81 did incorporate many AK design features, but overall it is no more an AK than those that were influenced by the Kalashnikov design, such as the Belgian FNC or the Swiss Sig 550 and much less so than the Israeli Galil and the Finnish Valmet-Sako 62, which are well-made AK clones with some improvements.
Due to the Sino-Russo ideological split in the early 1960s, the Russians never gave the Chinese licenses to produce the AKM and the RPK, the light-machine-gun variant of the AKM. The Chinese army had never been wholly pleased with the AK's performance and chose to design a new rifle instead of continuing with the existing Type 56, their designation for the AK.
They were also in need of a replacement for the aging and expensive Type 56 (RPD) light machine guns. The Chinese were using an expensive milled-receiver Type 56-1. The stamped-receiver Type 56 model did not appear in large numbers until the Type 81 was in development. According to the Chinese military, the 56 design has inadequate accuracy in semiautomatic mode and is uncontrollable in full automatic. As matter of fact, the 56 was designated as a submachine gun and only issued as a replacement for the Type 50 (PPSh-41) and Type 54 (PPS-43) in infantry units.
The mission for a new indigenous military rifle started in the 1960s. The Type 63 rifle, a combination of SKS and AK features, came initially. It was proven to be unsatisfactory and was withdrawn from service by the mid-1970s. During the same period, among numerous other obscure research projects, the 66-136 experimental rifle emerged. The 66-136 laid the foundation for the development of the next generation of Chinese infantry rifle, the Type 81.
As its project name indicated, the development of the 66-136 rifle started in 1966 with a unique delayed-blowback-action feature that utilized a two-piece bolt assembly with multi-lug rotating bolt. It was designed to be easily convertible to gas-operated action and built with a hodgepodge of parts from the Type 56 carbine (SKS) and the Type 63 rifle. The short-stroke gas system developed for the 66-136 was used for comparison testing with the delayed-blowback action.
Conversion between the action types was a simple matter of adding or removing the gas-piston assembly. The 66-136 project was eventually canceled because construction of the delayed-blowback action required tight tolerance and fine machining, requirements that the Chinese military was unwilling to accept. Furthermore, Chinese ammunition producers were incapable of producing clean-burning 7.62x39mm ammo with the consistent pressure that the delayed-blowback action required.
A new catalyst for the rifle's development came during the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979. The Chinese army went into combat essentially with WWII-style small-arms distribution the Type 56 carbine (SKS) in place of the bolt-action rifle backed up by the Type 56-1 light machine gun (RPD) as a squad automatic weapon. The Type 56 (AK47) was used as a submachine gun and only given to officers and cadres.
It was perhaps one of the most backward infantry TOEs in the world at the time. In comparison, the AK was general issue for all combat troops on the Vietnamese side. Not surprisingly, the Chinese were at a firepower disadvantage in most of the firefights. After the war, the conservatively minded leadership realized its mistake and at last accepted the concept of assault rifles for all troops. The carbine was quickly withdrawn from service amid an urgent development plan to replace both the 56 (AK) and the 56-1 (RPD).