During the 1920s China was embroiled in a civil war between the Chinese Communists led by Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) who were led by Chiang Kai-shek. The fighting briefly subsided after 1937 with the Japanese invasion of China. During World War II, the United States became allied with the Chinese Nationalists and provided massive military and financial aid to help China fight the Japanese. The wartime plan of the U.S. was to assist China in becoming a strong ally and a stabilizing force in Asia after the war. When World War II ended the Chinese civil war intensified, eventually resulting in a Communist victory in 1949. The Nationalist government left the mainland and settled on the island of Taiwan. Communist leader Mao Tse-tung renamed China the Peoples Republic of China.
During the Korean War the Peoples Republic of China supported the Communist north and in October of 1950 sent troops in to assist the North Koreans in fighting the South Korean, NATO and U.S. troops. Ironically many of the U.S. made weapons that were sent to China as military aid during World War II were fielded by the Chinese against U.S. soldiers and marines in Korea.
Soviet Post War Military Aid
The Soviet Union began a post World War II program to the assist the new Peoples Republic of China. The program primarily consisted of military aid that included many small arms, which the Chinese soon copied and started to manufacture themselves, with technical and financial support from the Russians. Most of the small arms were exact copies of the Russian weapons including the PPSh 41 submachine gun produced in China as the Type 50, the PPS43 as the Type 43, the SKS as the Type 56 carbine and the AK-47 as the Type 56 rifle. However during the late 1950s the Russians and Chinese began to have differing national interests and political ideologies, resulting in a Sino-Soviet split by the mid 1960s. While many previous Chinese weapons were near exact copies of Russian models, evidence of design variations were observed after the Sino-Soviet split when the Chinese began to produce their own version of the Soviet stamped receiver AKM model. The Chinese version (still designated as the Type 56) differed from the Soviet AKM, and most eastern European copies, by having an 800-meter rear sight, smooth top cover, flat sided lower handguards, relief holes in the gas tube, flat muzzle nut, lack of a hammer delay system and a thicker sheet metal receiver. The stamped receiver Type 56 was followed by other era weapon designs that were uniquely Chinese, including the Type 67 machine gun, the Type 64 submachine gun, and the Type 68 rifle.
The Type 68 Rifle
While most Chinese infantry small arms of the twentieth century were copies of Soviet models, the Type 68 (sometimes referred to as the Type 63) rifle is an indigenous Chinese design. The weapon is somewhat of an anomaly; having a few “modern” features such as a select-fire capability and firing a midrange 7.62x39mm cartridge, but has the appearance, weight and length of an older World War II design.
At first glance the Type 68 looks very much like an SKS rifle, the primary difference between the two designs is that the SKS uses a titling-bolt locking system, while the Type 68 features a rotating-bolt system similar to that of the AK-47 rifle. The SKS is a semiautomatic-only weapon while the Type 68 has a semiautomatic and full-automatic capability.
The gas system used on the Type 68 is an impingement design, that is similar to that used in the SKS. While the SKS gas piston impinges on a spring-loaded gas piston extension, the Type 68’s piston rod impinges directly on the rifle’s bolt carrier. The piston rod extends through a spring that returns the piston to a forward position after engaging the bolt carrier. The gas piston is enclosed inside a circular sheet metal heat shield to protect the upper handguard from excessive heat during sustained firing. The Type 68 gas piston is not attached to the bolt carrier as on the AK-47, but is a separate component. The Type 68 has an adjustable two-position gas regulator located on the front end of the gas tube to keep the weapon functioning when extremely fouled. The gas regulator is adjusted by pressing the retainer and rotating it downward, which will allow it to be pulled free, and the regulator knob rotated to the desired position. The soldier can see the position of the gas regulator spindle, which is indicated by a small and large hole on the back of the knob, at a glance. The smaller of the two gas ports is the normal position. Like the Chinese Type 56 carbine (SKS) and some Type 56 rifles (AK-47) the Type 68 has a permanently attached spike-type bayonet. When not in use, the bayonet can folded and stored under the barrel. To extend the bayonet the soldier pulls the grip rearward and rotates the blade forward locking it onto the L shaped lug under the front sight tower, to retract the blade the grip is pulled to unlock the bayonet and then rotate it under the barrel until it locks into position. There is a barrel mounted front attachment point for a sling and a sling swivel on the buttstock, both are on the left side of the weapon.
The bolt carrier is a steel forging machined for containing the recoil spring, rotating and housing the breech bolt and tripping the automatic sear. There are also grooves on the sides that ride on rails inside the receiver. The cocking handle of the Type 68 is on the right side of the receiver and is an integral part of the bolt carrier; the handle itself extends straight out and is similar in appearance to that of the SKS rifle. A sheet metal cover is fitted over the top of the receiver.