The Commission Rifle Part V — The Chinese Hanyang 88
While the same time the German Army was modernizing with their new rifle, the Gewehr 88, across the globe China was also seeking new arms to modernize the Chinese Imperial Army. By the 1890′s the Chinese Army was mostly armed with obsolete breechloading rifles which were imported from foreign countries who sold them as cheap surplus. Many units were still armed with muskets, swords, spears, and bows.
One important figure in the modernization of the Chinese Army was Viceroy Zhang Zhidong, who created an experimental army consisting of 60,000 men. Instructed by German officers, the men of this army trained with modern weapons and equipment and were armed with German Gewehr 88 rifles. With the successes of Zhang’s modernized army, he was able to obtain funds from the Imperial government to begin the production of a new bolt action infantry rifle. Since Zhang was familiar with the Gewehr 88, he chose simply to adopt it for the new Chinese Army, beginning production at the Hubei Arsenal in 1891. The new rifles were not produced under license, rather Zhang simply stole and copied the design. In 1895 the rifle was officially adopted by the Chinese Empire, called the Type 88 and nicknamed the Hanyang 88 after the Hanyang Arsenal, the primary producer of the rifle.
Early production of the Hanyang 88 were exact copies of the Gewehr 88 in every way. In 1904 some improvements were made. First the barrel jacket was removed, a feature which Germany had refused to do away with. Secondly the sights were replaced with more modern sights based on that of more modern Mauser rifles. Finally a wooden handguard was added.
The Hanyang 88 was a good rifle for China’s new army, it was simple and robust. The only problem with the Hanyang 88 was not with the rifle itself, but the ability of Chinese industry to produce them with quality. China was new to modern industrialization, and the quality of the rifles suffered as a result. Many were fine rifles while others were crudely made depending on what factory they originated from. Regardless the Hanyang 88 saw some hard service throughout China’s tumultuous history in the late 19th and 20th centuries. First they were used by the Qing Dynasty Imperial Army, seeing use in the First Sino Japanese War and the Boxer Rebellion. After the overthrow of the empire and founding of the Chinese Republic the rifle became standard issue for the newly formed Nationalist Army, as well as the many warlord factions who took control of the country in the 1920′s. The Type 88 would then be used in the Second Sino Japanese war and World War II. It was also a common rifle used by Communist forces commanded by Mao Tse Tung.
In 1935 the Chinese Army adopted the Type 24 rifle, which was a copy of the German Mauser Standard Modell. Despite being much more advanced than the obsolete Type 88, the Hanyang rifle was never phased out and continued to be issued concurrently with the Type 88, and later American Lend Lease weapons like the Springfield M1903, M1917 Enfield, and M1 Garand. Production of the Type 88 was finally discontinued in 1944, with 1,083,480 produced. They continued in use after World War II and during the Chinese Civil War, later being used by the People’s Liberation Army after the fall of the Chinese Republic along side Soviet weaponry. Examples of the Type 88 were even found in use among Vietcong guerrillas during the Vietnam War.
As a testament to the hard use of the Hanyang 88, there are relatively few surviving examples today, and most are very worn and beat up. Many even lack rifling, their bores being worn smooth from decades of continuous use.