The Chinese type 81 family of rifles has made its home in the Canadian gun market as a reliable alternative to the typical black rifles we here in the west are familiar with. However, there are many misconceptions with the history and development of the type 81 as its popularity as a military arm has been dwarfed by more popular designs in western gun culture such as the AR & AK platforms. As such this overview will seek to provide information on the history of the rifle, specifications, and applicable uses.
During the Cold War, the Sino-Soviet relationship was beginning to crumble and with it went the small arms schematic sharing between the two nations. As a result of this, the Chinese government at the time was looking to introduce a domestically designed weapon system with the intended purpose of replacing the aging small arms of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) which mainly consisted of SKS (Type 56), AK47 (Also Type 56) and Mosin Nagant (Type 53) pattern of rifles. They also deployed the RPD light machine gun which they fittingly named the type 56 LMG.
The first attempt of creating a new rifle for the PLA was done in the early 60s with the introduction of the Type 63/68. The type 63 was a stop gap select fire rifle that maintained the traditional full-length stock of the SKS type 56, however it implemented a rotating bolt to replace the SKS’s tilting bolt mechanism. It also featured a two-position adjustable gas block and used AK magazines. This design was helpful for the Chinese to learn from its faults and merits for future native small arms production. Nevertheless, it was beginning to be phased out of frontline service sometime in the 1970s, however like many other dated small arms that were still in service in times of need, the Chinese had large reserves of these rifles and used them where they saw fit. Because of this, you can see photos coming from the Sino-Vietnamese border conflicts where PLA soldiers are photographed using the rifle after its recall from front line use.
Type 63/68 in action & field stripped
Moving forward from here, the Chinese began designing a new rifle, as they wanted to rival the world superpowers in small arms production while also rearming their forces with an indigenous system. From this goal the type 81 family of rifles was born.
The type 81 was designed to replace the aging small arms system the PLA and Peoples Armed Police forces (PAP) were fielding. It also signified the first completely native designed rifle that Chinese engineers had produced that had been adopted for military service. The type 81 project underwent Chinese military trials starting in 1979 and had been approved for initial production for the trials in 1983. Upon successful completion of the trials the weapons family was approved for mass production and field use in 1986 and has been in service with the PLA and PAP until the introduction of the small-bore rifle system which later saw the PLA adopt the type 95 weapons family chambered in the new 5.8x42mm cartridge. The type 81 family of rifles came in three forms, the type 81, type 81 -SA, and type 81 LMG. The type 81 and type 81 - SA only differ in the stock configuration, as the SA model sports a folding stock as opposed to the originals fixed wooden stock. The third configuration is the LMG model, which was intended to replace the RPD system, as such the type 81 LMG features an RPD club foot stock, extended heavy threaded barrel, adjusted front sight post closer to the muzzle for increased sight radius, and a carry handle attached to the left side of the receiver under the rear sight post.
The type 81 weapons system aesthetically derives heavily from the AK family of rifles; however, it has several subtle differences which completely set it apart from the AK. Starting from the front it comes from the factory with a three-position adjustable gas block, setting 1 is for normal operating conditions, setting 0 is for firing rifle grenades, and setting 2 is for adverse conditions. The weapons also sport a gas piston cover instead of the AK or SKSs gas piston housing tube. The rear sighting system is completely different, as it uses an elevation system that raises elevation using two spring loaded knobs which increase the elevation from 100 – 500 meters in 100 meter increments with each turn.
The receiver is slightly longer than AK rifles, they also moved the magazine well and catch forward away from the trigger guard, and have a safety selector located on the left side of the receiver which simulates the aesthetic of an AR type of safety however it is a full 180 degree throw to manipulate it (There are side rail kits available in the Canadian gun market which allow one the move the safety to the right side of the receiver to accommodate it). The specifications for the rifle and the LMG versions are practically the same save for the stocks, barrel, and sighting system. Also, for those of us living in Canada, all type 81 magazines come with a pin preventing more than five rounds from being loaded into them, and all models including the LMG are factory configured to be semi-automatic only.
The specifications of the type 81 rifle are as follows:
Action: Semi / Fully Automatic
Operation: Short Stroke Three Position Gas Piston & Rotating Bolt Type 81 Sight Picture & Rear Top View
Stock: Fixed / Folding
Sights: Adjustable Front / Rear
Barrel: 475mm / 18.7”
Overall Length (Stock Extended / Folded): 955mm / 38” vs 750mm / 29”
Weight: 3400g / 7.5lbs
The type 81 family of rifles is an underappreciated weapon system, however considering that it is banned from import into the USA due to political import restrictions placed upon China by the US government, it is understandable why it has not gained as much traction there seeing the plentiful amount of AKs available to the USAs gun market. For those of us living in Canada however, All AK variants except for the Finish Valmet series have been banned from legal firearm ownership since the early firearms bans in the 1970s. Therefore, because the type 81 is still a legal non-restricted rifle here in Canada, it definitely fills the position for those of us who have always wanted to own an AK without paying Valmet level prices for it. Finally, the type 81 and type 81 LMG civilian export models would definitely make a great addition to any Canadians armoury if they were in the market for a reliable, AK style 7.62x39 rifle. Whether it be for sport shooting, pest control, plinking or collecting, these rifles will no doubt fill the need.
Field Stripping Video:
Popenker, M. (2015, February 6). Gun review: The chinese type 81. Tactical Life Gun
Magazine: Gun News and Gun Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.tactical-life.com/firearms/chinese-type-81/
Norinco Type 63 / type 68 (SVS). Military Factory - Global Defense Reference. (2018, October 9). Retrieved from https://www.militaryfactory.com/smallarms/detail.php?smallarms_id=610