The Type 56 carbine, also colloquially known as the Chinese SKS carbine or a Chicom SKS (used mostly in USA) was a license-built version of the Soviet Simonov SKS carbine, firing the intermediate-power 7.62x39mm ammunition, also of the Soviet origin. Its official name in the Chinese service was 56式半自动步枪, which translates to “Type 56 semi-automatic rifle”. It was adopted in 1956 along with two other weapons of Soviet origin, firing the same 7.62mm ammunition – the Kalashnikov AK assault rifle, which was known in the Chinese service as the “Type 56 submachine gun”, and the Degtyarov RPD light machine gun (also designated as the Type 56). Soviet Union provided significant aid in establishing production of these small arms and ammunition, supplying machinery, tools, semi-finished parts and, last but not least, Russian engineers to train and supervise their Chinese colleagues.
Unlike its Soviet prototype, the Chinese-made Simonov carbine had a much longer service life, with last Type 56 carbines not being retired from the local Militia use as late as 2007. In PLA use the Type 56 carbine was superseded by a domestically designed 7.62mm Type 81 assault rifle, which entered mass production during the early 1980s. The mass production of the military Type 56 carbines ceased at about the same time. Through its production span, the Chinese Type 56 carbine was manufactured by a significant number of factories across the country, with many minor variations and alterations introduced as the time went. For example, early production Type 56 carbines were almost similar to their soviet SKS prototypes. However, in mid-1960s PLA switched from the blade bayonets to the slightly longer spike-type bayonets, with a roughly triangular cross-section. There were other, less obvious changes, of which probably the most notable one was a run of Type 56 carbines with the stamped steel receivers, produced during 1970. The total number of the Type 56 carbines manufactured through almost 30 years of its production is hard to estimate, but it may be well over 15 million guns.
The Type 56 carbine was widely exported from China to a variety of left-wing and pro-socialist regimes, movements and factions across the world, including the Asia, Africa and Americas. Some of these “export special” carbines were marked as “M21”, with no other markings but a serial number and a factory code.
Starting in mid- 1980s China began exporting surplus Type 56 carbines to the commercial markets, including the US and Canada. Some of these carbines were sold “as is”, some were altered to various “civilian” configurations. A number of commercial “Chinese SKS”, also known as the “Chicom SKS” carbines were also newly made during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It all came to a halt when the import ban, imposed by the American president Bill Clinton in 1994, closed the biggest civilian market in the world for the Chinese-made weapons. Back then a Chinese SKS carbine was considered to be a really inexpensive, if not a “cheap junk” gun. However, as time passed and original supply dried up, prices increased dramatically, and now some Chinese SKS guns, and especially non-import marked genuine Type 56 military carbines command “collector grade” premium prices on American market.
Many Chinese SKS carbines were exported through the state=owned NORINCO corporation, and imported by many companies. Of various “commercial” variations of the “Chicom SKS” / Type 56 carbine, made for sales to civilian markets outside of China, following configurations are worth mentioning:
The SKS-D, which was altered to accept the AK-type detachable box magazine
The SKS-Para, or the “Paratrooper model”, with the barrel shortened to 16,5” / 420 mm. Despite its name, there is no indication that Chinese paratroopers ever used such gun, with the Type 56-1 folding stock assault rifle being much superior for that role.
The SKS-M, which combined features of both the SKS-D variant (a detachable magazine) and the SKS-Para variant (a shorter barrel)
It also must be noted that there is a significant after-market support for these guns, with wide selection of alternate stocks, sight mounts, magazines and other accouterments produced both in USA and abroad.
In its basic design and functioning the Type 56 carbine is exactly the same as the Soviet Simonov SKS carbine.