A: This is by far the most commonly asked question. Unfortunately, the real answer is
“Nobody but the Chinese know with 100% certainty, and they aren’t talking.”
Based on countless hours of research, the viewing of hundreds of different rifles with different arsenal stamps, different serial number designations, and most importantly, different feature sets we think we have an answer, so let’s give it our best try. Please note this list isn’t gospel, is it just our interpretation based on our observations. Also note that we are one year different from EVERYONE else on the net. We have a very good reason for doing this and have proof to back it up. If you think you see a glaring error, please post up and let’s discuss it.Please feel free to reply to this post, but also note that all replies & banter will eventually be deleted as they are discussed to keep this thread as clean as possible.
The easy ones:
- Early to mid 1956: Soviet Sino Guns, S/N 0001 to ~2000.
- 1956 – to at latest, April 1957: Ghost Guns, S/N ~2000 to ~213,700.
- Early 1957: six digit /26\ marked guns, S/N ~213,700 to at least 348,996.
- Late 1957: 2 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~2,350,000 to at least 2,441,000.
- 1958: 3 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~3,000,001 to at least 3,233,000. First observation of the stock side sling swivel.
- 1959: Letter Prefix /26\ marked guns. Stocks contain narrow font.
- 1960?: Letter Prefix /26\ marked guns. Stocks contain wide font. First observation of large (1/4” tall x ~1/4” wide) font. These guns could theoretically be lumped with the 1959 letters, and 1960 could have been a very light Type 56 year. There is really no hard evidence pointing one way or the other, though I would lean towards major disruptions in Chinese Type 56 production as the Sino-Soviet split was entering full swing and China could no longer rely on easily getting barreled receivers supplied from the USSR. This also can give additional meaning to the Chinese ideograph markings seen on the 1961 built carbines as they were now fully Chinese built.
- 1961: 6 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~6,000,001 to at least 6,021,000. First observation of the 五六式 stamp.
- 1962: 7 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~7,000,001 to at least 7,170,000.
- 1963: 8 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~8,000,001 to at least 8,209,000.
- 1964: 9 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~9,000,001 to at least 9,218,000. First observation of short barrel lug, first observation of spike bayonet.
- 1965: 10 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~10,000,001 to at least 10,442,000. Stock sling swivel relocated to bottom again.
- 1966: 11 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~11,000,001 to at least 11,590,000 (This S/N range seems excessively long…something is going on here we don't fully understand!). First observation of stamped trigger group, first two piece gas tube, deletion of bolt carrier and bayo lug lightening cuts.
- 1967: 12 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~12,000,001 to at least 12,351,000. First appearance of the inverted receiver cover takedown lever..
- 1968: 13 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~13,000,001 to at least 13,071,000.
- 1969: 14 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~14,000,001 to at least 14,242,000.
- 1978: 23 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~23,000,001 to at least 23,113,000. First observation of ‘French Tickler’ Bakelite style handguard
- 1979: 24 million /26\ marked guns, S/N ~24,000,001 to at least 24,224,000.
- 1984: Clayco M8 marked guns, new production (on scrubbed receivers?), S/N ~10,000 to ~11,600, no longer see the 五六式 stamp.
- 1988: SKS 63, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1988: SKS D, new production, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1988 to 1989 & 1992 to 1993: SKS Sporter, new production, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1989: SKS KS-30, 16.5” barrel, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1992: SKSS, new production, 16.5” barrel, short gas system.
- 1993: SKS 93, 16.5” barrel, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1993 to 1994: SKS M, new production, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1993 to 1994: SKS NR, new production, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1993 to 1994: SKS MC-5D, rearsenaled, accepts standard AK magazines.
- 1988 – 1994: Misc guns of various styles, usually w/o an arsenal stamp and sometimes assembled from scrubbed parts, having a unique 88 thru 93 prefix to the serial number. The parts of these guns may come from any time period, but they were (re)assembled and (re)numbered exclusively for export.
Now, you’re probably saying, “These SKS-Files guys don’t know jack. Everybody
on the net knows that the date code on a /26\ gun reads:
1956 + millions digit = year of manufacture!!!!”
In my years of collecting, I have never seen any hard proof that says this is the case! Many experts proclaim this, and every site on the net that even superficially deals with SKSs has rumblings that this is the date formula, but why?! It seems that this is simply a case of one idea getting regurgitated over and over again, gaining more ‘truth’ the more often it’s repeated. Proof for this dating scheme is severely lacking.
It has been mentioned that there are Vietnam captured guns with papers that give us a floor that say a 12 million /26\ series gun cannot have come later than 1971, but this really does not tell us that the 1956 + millions idea of dating is correct, only that it is somewhat close.
We like to see more substantial proof than “XYZ says so” here at SKS-Files. It is abundantly clear that the very first Chinese Type 56 carbines produced for China were the 0001 to ~2000 Soviet-Sino Type 56 carbines. These carbines are characterized by the four digit serial numbers within the 0001 to 2000 spread, a conspicuous Tula star stamped on the left side of the receiver to the far right of the S/N, a long barrel lug, “V” shaped bayonet cutout in the front stock ferrule, and numerous Russian approval and process stamps located on all components throughout the carbine. The original stocks on these carbines appear to be made of the same hardwood used on Russian SKS 45s. Common consensus is that these carbines were produced in very early to mid 1956. Indeed, the Soviet Union adopted the Tula star stamped SKS 45 receivers with the introduction of their “Д” serial suffixed guns in 1956! It is unknown whether these “trial” guns were actually produced in the USSR with Chinese observers taking detailed production notes, or whether they were produced in China using all Russian supplied hardware with direct Russian technical help.
Production immediately went into full swing with the “Ghost” guns. These carbines are almost identical to the Soviet-Sinos with some notable differences. These carbines do not have near as many Russian approval and process stamps on components indicating less hand holding by the Soviets. The stocks on these carbines appear to have a somewhat different wood type than was used in Russian SKS 45s. And finally, these carbines range from S/N ~2000 to ~213700 for a production run of approximately 212,000 carbines. Based on the Soviet-Sino production, it would appear that these truly domestically produced carbines were produced in the latter half of 1956 through at latest early 1957. The Chinese themselves often refer to their domestic built SKS carbine as the “Type 56 and a half” carbine.
In 1957 we know something special happened at Jianshe arsenal in China:
In April 1957, the second factory became state-owned and was renamed Jianshe Machine Tool Factory.
At around S/N 213700, we notice a very substantial change in Chinese SKS rifle production: the triangle 26 (denoted as /26\
here at SKS-Files) stamp first appears. The timing of these two events could be purely coincidental, but it would seem that tying them together would make sense as the new government run factory would now have different protocols for marking firearms than the “privately” owned factory previously did. These rifles, for all intents and purposes, are identical to the ghost guns in all features. The six digit /26\ guns continued until around S/N 325,000, giving a run of approximately 197,000 carbines. It is surmised that the six digit /26\ guns were made after the April 1957 government takeover of Jianshe. This would mean that they are all 1957 guns.
As the six digit /26\ carbines continued to come off the line, the Chinese decided to make yet another change. It is known that in T53 production, the Chinese switched from an progressing alphanumeric S/N (AXXXXXX) early on, to a simple progressing all numeric S/N like they used with the ghost and six-digit /26\ guns. Later in T53 production, they changed a third time to a millions placeholder system where the millions digit changed as the year of manufacture changed. Finally in 1960, they changed a fourth time back to a 4 numeral progressing alphanumeric with a /26\ stamp. Luckily for us, the Chinese actually labeled their T53s with the manufacture date so we can directly correlate S/N changes and see what they did and when they did it. With the Type 56 SKS, we don’t have a date stamp, but we can assume that they did similar things at similar times with their numbers systems. Unfortunately, this comparison puts us at odds with the most commonly accepted 1956 + millions = year of manufacture guesstimate that is so prolific around the web. The T53 system of numbering actually went like this:
6/1953 to 12/1953: A000001 thru A62000.
1954: 1,000,001 thru 1,305,000.
Early 1955: 1,305,000 thru 1,402,000.
Late 1955: 3,000,001 thru 3,330,000.
1956: 4,000,001 thru 4,063,000.
1960: Letter series: A0001 thru perhaps K9999, with a distinct /26\ stamp.
which indicates that they experimented with 4 different styles of part numeration. The 1953 guns have a special symbol immediately after the S/N that is a Chinese “Shi” character: 試
. This character is often translated to mean “test” or “experiment” and the 1953 rifles are often called “trials” rifles. In 1954, the S/N designation changed to a simple rolling 1 million prefix number that continued from ’54 through the early parts of 1955. By late 1955 is where things get really interesting, they jump to a 3 million prefix and reset the main block of numbers back to 000001. In 1956, they again jump the prefix to 4 million and reset the main block of numbers back to 000001. They are clearly attempting to designate some type of special meaning to the millions place on these T53s. It appears they are designating the millions placeholder to indicate the “nth” year of production. Had they kept this ‘standard’ S/N system throughout production, 1953 would have been the 1st year of production (1 million), 1954 would have been 2nd (2 million), 1955 was the 3rd year of production (3 million), 1956 was the 4th year (4 million), and so on.
The odd S/N method restarted in 1960 has been theorized by T53 collectors to have been a specific contract of T53 rifles purposefully made for North Vietnam. It is interesting to note that the /26\ mark shows up in 1960, but not in 1956 which is entirely consistent with the major ownership changes at Jianshe in 1957.
Back to the T56 SKSs, it seems the Chinese only half-heartedly started the millions = a new year of manufacture on their SKSs. Instead of rolling the main digit back to 000001, they continued with a rolling S/N from the six digit /26\ guns directly
into the 2 million series, proceeding from S/N ~348,000 to S/N ~2,350,000. If they followed the same numbering system that they used for T53s in 1956, these 2 million series T56 SKS carbines should be 1957 (2nd year) produced guns as well!! The one major ding I see in this dating system is that the Chinese had to have produced the latter portions of the ghost guns, all the six digit /26\ guns, and all the 2 million /26\ guns in the same year. This equals more than 203,000 SKS carbines in their second year of SKS production. This may not be as far fetched as it seems since we know the Chinese are thought to have produced more than 300,000 T53s in 1954, their second year of production and a whopping 440,000 T53 carbines in 1955, only their third year of T53 production!! They obviously became proficient at mass production of these armaments very rapidly We know that they had extensive help from the USSR to produce these weapons and the need was exceedingly great to adequately arm the PLA after the Korean War exposed the many Chinese supply and logistics weaknesses.
The 88 to 94 marked guns are very clearly 1988 to 1994 guns built specifically for export to foreign markets. Most of the special purpose guns such as the AK magazine accepting ones, were obviously new manufacture as described in the list above.
The slightly harder ones:
(This list is by no means complete; more will be added as they are discovered.)
- 1973: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 18,000,000’s.
- 1974: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 19,000,000’s.
- 1975: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 20,000,000’s.
- 1976: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 21,000,000’s.
- 1977: Diamond/Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 22,000,000’s.
- 1978: Oval/Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 23,000,000’s.
- 1979: Diamond/Oval/Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 24,000,000’s.
- 1980: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 25,000,00’s.
- 1983: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 28,000,000’s.
- 1984: Triangle Arsenals, No Arsenal Stamp, S/N in the 29,000,000’s.
If you look at the bulleted list of the mostly /26\ guns in the previous section, you’ll notice that there is a huge empty spot from 1970 through 1977 at the /26\ factory. Did the Chinese suddenly stop producing Type 56 SKSs? What about all the other triangle, rectangle, diamond, and oval arsenals, where do they fit in the grand scheme of things? The Chinese were pretty meticulous with their /26\ Type 56 and even their Type 53’s. It is highly unlikely that they would totally drop their tracking system w/o replacing it with something else.
Based on numerous examples, we believe that with the higher output factories, they simply continued using their original system of S/Ns. The image below shows an example of this continuation of the millions digit = “nth” year of production numbering system.
Figure 1: An example of a 23 million (23rd year of production = 1978) gun with a non /26\ stamp. This gun has all “late” features including a pressed and pinned barrel, two piece gas tube, and stamped & spot-welded trigger group.
The harder ones:
(This list is by no means complete; more will be added as they are discovered.)
- 1967: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,200,000’s.
- 1968: Oval/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,300,000’s.
- 1969: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,400,000’s.
- 1970: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,500,000’s. Note that there is a distinct but small (less than 20k rifles) group of /26\ rifles produced with a 1.5 million prefix. The Chinese must have known they would be tapering SKS production at /26\ in 1970 and modified the S/N accordingly.
- 1971: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,600,000’s.
- 1972: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,700,000’s.
- 1973: Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 1,800,000’s.
- 1975: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N in the 2,000,000’s.
- 1976: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 2,100,000’s.
- 1977: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N in the 2,200,000’s.
- 1978: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N in the 2,300,000’s.
- 1979: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N in the 2,400,000’s.
- 1980: Oval Arsenals, S/N in the 2,500,000’s.
Why do we say the “higher output factories” in the above section? The answer is that there are many lower output factories that also produced rifles in this time period. Where the large arsenals could easily crank out 100 thousand rifles a year, it appears that the lower output factories struggled to produce even 10 thousand rifles over the course of a year. The Chinese learned that they did not need the hundred thousands placeholder in the serial numbers of guns produced at low output factories. The Chinese are nothing if not efficient, they realized that stamping an extra “0” on all the serialized components was a huge waste of time, so they simply dropped the hundred thousand, and sometimes even the ten thousand placeholder digit! Therefore, on some of the smaller factories, it is not
the millions placeholder that is important, it is the first two digits
that tell the “nth” year of production.
Figure 2: An example of a “1.8” million gun that in reality designates the 18th year of production (1973). This gun has all “late” features including a pressed and pinned barrel, spike bayonet, and late style front sight assembly.
The really hard ones:
(This list is by no means complete; more will be added as they are discovered.)
- 1970: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N with a 70 prefix.
- 1971: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N with a 71 prefix.
- 1972: Rectangle/Triangle Arsenals, S/N with a 72 prefix.
- 1973: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N with a 73 prefix.
- 1974: Diamond Arsenals, S/N with a 74 prefix.
- 1975: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N with a 75 prefix.
- 1976: Rectangle Arsenals, S/N with a 76 prefix.
So by now, if you’re really paying attention, you should have recognized something about every
Type 56 made by the Chinese since they started the 2 million series back in 1957: on datable guns, the serial number on the receiver always
contains more digits than the most other S/N’s stamped components throughout the gun. A four, five, or six digit number is sufficient to keep the important numbered parts matched with the gun during manufacture, but time is saved by not having to stamp the entire S/N 6 times per gun.
Based on many examples we have seen of mismatched fonts, extra spacing, varying strike depth, misalignment, and the general ‘differentness’ of the “nth” year of production codes, it is clear that the codes are stamped after the main four, five, or six digit S/N is applied sometime during the production of the weapon. Now, we know that certain Chinese Type 56 guns imported in the late 80’s through early 90’s sport a very
distinct 88-94 S/N prefix as shown below.
Figure 3: An example of an “88” prefixed gun.
Figure 4: An example of an “89” prefixed gun.
Figure 5: An example of a “90” prefixed gun.
Figure 6: An example of a “91” prefixed gun.
Figure 7: An example of a “92” prefixed gun.
Figure 8: An example of a “93” prefixed gun.
Figure 9: An example of a “94” prefixed gun.
The question now becomes: “Did the Chinese use this method of dating guns prior to the late 80s?” The simple answer is, yes. The Chinese appear to have used this method of attaching the “YY” prefix extensively at certain factories in the early to mid 70’s.
Figure 10: An example of a “74” prefixed gun that clearly has a distinct space between the date stamp and the main portion of the serial number.
Figure 11: An example of a “75” prefixed gun. The year prefix on this specimen is very well aligned with the rest of the serial number. This gun has a short lug, late style rear sight block, cast gas port, late front sight assembly, and 2 piece gas tube.
As more information comes into the Comprehensive Chinese SKS Survey, we will hopefully be able to update this list with additional S/N blocks of non /26\ arsenal guns.
Photos from various auction sites and internet postings are used under 17 U.S. Code § 107, fair use, not for profit educational purposes. If any of the photos in this post are yours and you explicitly do not want them shown, please contact me.