Staff Writer (Updated: 5/11/2012):
Outwardly, the Type 56 differed little from the Soviet version it mimicked save for the requisite Chinese production markings. The body consisted of a single piece of wood that made up the shoulder stock and forend with all metal internal working components being centralized at the exposed the top of the receiver. The grip was integrated into the stock's form while the curved trigger unit was slung under the receiver, protected within a thin ring guard. The integrated ammunition box was set into a dug-out well found at the bottom of the receiver. The forward end of the weapon was dominated by the protruding barrel assembly which was set under the gas cylinder. The gas system could be quickly removed for cleaning and repair and was partly shrouded by wood cover with three noticeable perforations along the sides - giving it a very AK-style assault rifle appearance. Iron sights were set at the forward end of the receiver top and aft of the muzzle. As in the Soviet SKS, the Chinese version also made use of the novel folding bayonet installation which could be folded back, collapsing along the underside of the barrel for a more compact form. Early production versions were given a blade-type design while later production forms featured the more typical "spike" bayonet. The charging handle was conventionally set to the right side of the body and loop slings were provided for a shoulder strap. The standard ammunition box (noted for its angled lower base) held 10 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammunition that could be fed either individually or by "stripper-clip" (charger). Access to the magazine for emptying was through a simple hinged cover found at the base of the box. Fire was limited to semi-automatic-only in the original production models and muzzle velocity was rated at 2,411 feet per second. Overall length measured 40 inches with an unloaded weight of 8lbs, 8oz. The barrel measured in at 20.5 inches and sported a 4-groove, right-hand twist design.
Having established experience in the production and operation of its Type 56 carbines, Chinese engineers eventually developed several derivatives of the Soviet SKS-based design including a compact paratrooper model, a carbine designed to accept the AK-47 curved 30-round magazine (Type 63) and a full-automatic/semi-automatic select fire model. By all accounts, the Type 56 Carbine operated as well as the original Soviet models.
The Type 56 Carbine is no longer in Chinese Army service. Some are reserved for ceremonial duties. Some 18 million copies are believed to have been produced.