In today’s world, there is always something to be said about China. But behind the strength of China’s new capitalist economy lies a country desperate to prevent tragic repeats of her past. Rewind just one hundred years and we see an entire world being carved up. India was under British coercion, Indochina under the French, and the European powers had just made a scramble to annex almost the entirety of Africa. The Ottoman Empire, with all its Middle Eastern territory and oil, looked ready to fall. As did China.
Japan had embarked on a campaign of massive industrialization and militarization to stave off Western bullying and it was obvious by the 1890s that China must do the same. The Qing emperor Guangxu, under the coercion of the cunning Empress Dowager Cixi, ordered that military reforms take place. Reforms that went along Western lines. New tactics, new artillery, machine guns, and rifles.
China ultimately decided to copy Germany’s Gew. 88 rifle and produce the gun in the Hanyang Arsenal, recently set up in 1891 for arms production. Ultimately, the new rifle would reach one million units of production with manufacture lasting until 1947. It would see use in the Boxer Rebellion, the Warlord era, the Chinese Civil War, and the War against Japan. The Communists shut down production when they overran the Hanyang arsenal, but the rifle stayed on officially until the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The Hanyang 88, when first built, was an exact copy of Germany’s Gew. 88 rifle. The bolt action mechanism is exactly the same with a five shot in line magazine that accepted an en bloc clip. The magazine has a hole at the bottom so the empty clip will fall out of the bottom of the rifle. It also fired the same 8x57mm round. However, the Chinese would render a few changes. The expensive steel barrel jacket was removed and replaced with a standard wooden handguard and standard Mauser sights that included a post front sight and a V notch rear graduated to 2000 meters. The gun is a little shorter and more practical, with a 26 inch barrel and comes with all the usual military rifle furniture of the day with barrel bands securing the barrel and a steel butt plate, as well as standard sling points.
Shooting the Hanyang 88 proved to be quite a quandary. Just about any Hanyang to survive all the fighting it endured to get to the US, they are in pretty bad shape. My own example’s stock was quite beaten, though not enough to eliminate the acceptance marks of both the Guangxu emperor and the Nationalists. The bore on the other hand, was in pretty poor straits. Rifling was there, but slugged in at .329″ diameter. These guns were originally manufactured to shoot a .318″ bullet.
There is also internet talk about the guns being made of inferior steels and, therefore, unsafe to shoot. The Hanyang was also developed before the introduction of a hotter 8x57mm round that is quite commonly seen today as military surplus. With ammunition being too hot or too undersized, I decided to do a bit of handloading and take the Hanyang to the range anyway.
The load I came up with was a .324″ diameter 175 grain projectile over 13 grains of Unique pistol powder. Its a light load, by any means. And I hoped the lead bullet would give better accuracy.
On the other hand, at least clips for the Gew. 88 are available, both original and reproduction.
Unable to connect at 100 yards, I reduced the distance to 50 on a generous sized target.
Loading the Hanyang 88 proved to be a smooth proposition compared to some other clip fed rifles I have worked with. An en bloc clip of five rounds is placed directly into the open action and pushed down into the magazine until it locks in place. The long spring in the magazine pushes against the rounds while the locked clip controls the feed of the rounds as you cycle the action. Clearing the gun is also straightforward by simply emptying the chamber and pressing the button on the inside of the trigger guard to eject the clip.
The sights are very low profile, yet crisp and there was no problem picking them up, though they are very crude in the Mauser style. Recoil with the light handloads was almost nonexistent and report was also mild. The trigger is quite light and breaks cleanly, though with plenty of takeup like any military two stage trigger. Making the gun safe, using the very Mauseresque flag safety at the back of the bolt was an easy and positive proposition. Flip it to the right for safe, back to left for fire. There is no middle position for bolt disassembly. When the last round is stripped off the clip, the clip will fall through the magazine out of the open port at the bottom of the rifle.
Though the gun was very pleasant to shoot, it appears that despite my best efforts, the gun was just too worn out. The rounds made it into a respectable 4 inch grouping at 50 yards, but most rounds keyholed and most groups were on the tune of 1 foot. I did not wish to modify the gun in any way, but was impressed to see it fire.
The Hanyang 88 will never win a beauty contest nor any shooting contests. They tend to be downright beat up. Many remained in Chinese militia service well into the 1980s and the guns will usually show every bit of it. Consider that the German Gew. 88 was dropped from service in the middle of World War I, many years before, it is amazing that a gun in the same class could last so long in so many fights. For that fact alone, the Hanyang is worthy and affordable military collectable, just out of respect.