Type 56 (top) and AKS-47.The Chinese Type 56 was the standard issue assault rifle of the Chinese military from the late 1950s until the 1980s when it was replaced by the newer Type 81 assault rifle. Some Chinese Reserve and Militia units still use the Type 56 rifle as well as the SKS. During the Cold War period, the Type 56 was exported to communist forces in the Third World. Many of these rifles found their way to battlefields in Africa, South-East Asia, and the Middle East during the Cold War era and were used alongside Kalashnikov rifles from both the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe.
Chinese support for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before the mid-1960s meant that the Type 56 was frequently encountered by American soldiers during the Vietnam War, in the hands of either NVA soldiers or Viet Cong guerrillas. In fact, the Type 56 was discovered in enemy hands far more often than Russian-made AK-47s or AKMs. When relations between China and the North Vietnam government declined in the 1970s and the Sino-Vietnamese War began, the Vietnamese government still had large numbers of Type 56 rifles in its arsenals while the People's Liberation Army still used the Type 56 as its standard weapon. Thus, Chinese and Vietnamese forces fought each other using the same Chinese-made Type 56 rifles.
Type 69 RPG and Type 56-2.
A Chinese sailor, armed with a Type 56 assault rifle.During the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, many Chinese Type 56 assault rifles were given to Afghan Mujahideen guerrillas to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan by both the Chinese and the Americans. The Type 56's use in Afghanistan also continued well into the 1990s and the early 21st century as the standard rifle of the Taliban when Taliban forces seized control of Kabul in 1996. The Taliban's use of the Type 56 was a stark contrast to the weapons of the Afghan Northern Alliance, which were exclusively Russian-made small arms like the AKM and the AK-74. Since the overthrow of the Taliban by US-led Coalition forces in late 2001, the Chinese Type 56 assault rifle is used by the Afghan National Army with many Type 56 rifles being used alongside the Russian AKM and AK-74 rifles.
The Chinese Type 56 assault rifle saw considerable action in the hands of Iranian forces during the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s with Iran purchasing large quantities of weapons from China for their war against Iraq. During the war, Iraq purchased a small quantity of Type 56 assault rifles from China despite Iraq being a major recipient of Soviet weapons and assistance during the Iran–Iraq War. Consequently, the Iran–Iraq War became another conflict in which both sides used the Type 56, much like the Sino-Vietnamese War.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Type 56 has been used in many conflicts across the world by the military forces of various nations. During the Croatian War of Independence and the Yugoslav Wars, the Type 56 was used by the armed forces of Croatia alongside other small arms and weapons the Croatians possessed. During the late 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army in Kosovo were also major users of the Type 56, with the vast majority of the weapons originating from Albania, which received Chinese support during the Cold War.
In recent times, the Type 56 has been used by the Janjaweed in the Darfur region of Sudan with pictures and news footage showing members of the Janjaweed carrying Type 56 rifles (most of them, provided by the Sudanese government). The Type 56 has also been seen regularly in the hands of militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas in the Palestinian territories; these weapons are most likely provided by Iran, which is both a known supporter of Hamas and a major consumer of Chinese weaponry.
In the mid-1980s, Sri Lanka started to replace their old British L1A1 Self-Loading Rifles (SLR) and HK G3s with the Type 56. Currently, they use the fixed stock, under-folding stock and sideways folding stock variants.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, the Type 56 and its' derivatives are frequently used in the filming of movies and television shows, standing in for Russian-made AK-47's due to the rarity of genuine AK-47 rifles, some even being visually modified to resemble other AK-series rifles, such as AK-74 rifles in the James Bond film GoldenEye. As with all firearms used in cinematography, these weapons are adapted to fire blank ammunition.