The Chinese took to local-license production of the Soviet SKS self-loading rifle (SLR) in the 1950s. The rifle proved reliable, easy to handle and easy to maintain with production reaching into the millions. The Chinese version was designated as the "Type 56" - a direct copy of the Soviet design - and was classified as a "carbine", firing 10-rounds from "stripper-clips" (chargers) inserted into a fixed box magazine firing through a gas-operated tilting bolt action. The weapon was chambered for the Soviet 7.62x39mm cartridge which was developed during World War 2.
In 1959, local design work began on a new self-loading automatic weapon based on the Type 56 Carbine. The original Type 56 proved relatively heavy for the intended role of service rifle and the use of stripper-clips for loading was antiquated in the age of detachable box magazines used in newer battle rifles and assault rifles. The firepower of the original weapon was deemed acceptable, however, so the intermediate Soviet cartridge was retained. The Chinese sought a standardized weapon which the infantryman could engage enemies at long and medium distances with equal accuracy and firepower - similar in scope to the American M14 automatic rifle developed from the war-time M1 Garand self-loading rifle.
The new design held over the Type 56's single-piece wooden body which gave it a similar overall appearance in profile. The barrel was lengthened for the required accuracy at range while the gas regulator was revised to a two stage form. The gas cylinder remained installed over the barrel assembly in a conventional fashion. The rather novel inclusion of a folding "spike" bayonet under the barrel was also kept from the original SKS/Type 56 series - this intended for extremely close-range combat. By this time, the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle was in quantitative circulation and its rotating bolt mechanism was utilized in the new Chinese SLR design. Select fire was available through a selector switch installed near the pistol grip along the right side of the receiver. The new self-loading rifle was cleared for service in 1963 which gave the designation of "Type 63" to the lot. It began formal operational service in 1968 which, in turn, created the Western designation of "Type 68". Overall length was 40 inches with a barrel measuring 20.9 inches long and an overall weight of 8.38lbs. Production spanned from 1968 to 1978 to which some 6 million units are believed to have been manufactured out of state-run arsenals.
The Type 63 was chambered for the 7.62x39mm Soviet M43 cartridge and this was fed by way of a 20-round detachable box magazine. The weapon could also be fed by individual rounds added to the magazine with the bolt held open. Additionally, two SKS/Type 56 chargers could be inserted into the magazine to reach the same result. With some modification, the 30-round AK-47 magazine could also be fitted if required. The weapon could be sighted up to 800 meters and fired at a muzzle velocity of 2,400 feet per second. Since the rifle was automatic in its function, a rate-of-fire of 750 rounds per minute could be achieved.
In practice, the Type 63 proved a mixed bag. It was cost-effective to produce in quantity and easy to operate and maintain in-the-field. The weapon was rather heavy for prolonged use and somewhat clumsy when in full-automatic fire. At the time of its inception it was more or less made obsolete by developments elsewhere - the assault rifle beginning to take shape in more forms than one. Chinese manufacturing quality also proved lacking and reliability over the long term was wanting. However, the basic design still proved serviceable enough for the growing Chinese Army and other nations took to its use as well. Beyond the Chinese Army, the Type 63 went on to see service with Afghan guerilla forces, Albania, Cambodia, Indonesian rebels and North Vietnam/Vietnam. It saw notable combat action in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and during the Vietnam War. However, the Type 63 was already out of Chinese circulation by 1978, such was the legacy of this indigenous self-loading rifle attempt. The Soviet AK-47 was inevitably picked up by Chinese factories as the "Type 56 AR" (not to be confused with the Type 56 Carbine).
At one point, Type 63 rifles were sold on the Australian civilian market in semi-automatic fire only forms.