Have you ever found an odd weapon when browsing your local gun store? I had recently finished some lecturing on Imperial China and I was in the mood for a modern rifle. But then I found a rifle that looked like a German Commission rifle that was mislabeled by the clerk. It was beaten up in the wood stock and had no metal finish left but when I saw the markings of the Emperor, The Republic of China, and Mao’s China I could not leave without it. The rifle is the Hanyang 88 and its the link to a place and a time poorly understood by most.
A Brief History
All great civilizations have a decline. China had many. The late 19th century was the most dire of all. Qing dynasty China was at the mercy of the European powers and the outdated Qing military needed new weapons badly.
One of the first weapons made in the new arsenal was an unlicenced copy of the German 1888 Commission rifle that fires the 8x57mm Mauser round. It would be in production at the arsenal until 1945.
The Hanyang 88’s first military action occurred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. China’s last attempt to throw out the Western powers. The Hanyang was carried by Boxer rebels and Cixi’s supporting troops. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
With Cixi dead the Qing dynasty was overthrown by Republicans in 1912 and the new Republic contended with many enemies. Warlords, Mao Zedong’s Communists, and the Japanese just to name a few. Mao kept the rifle in service until the end of the Korean War in 1953. Many ended up in milia service until the 1980s and some others made their way to fight yet another war in Vietnam.
The Hanyang 88 is often labeled as a Mauser rifle when in fact it is a copy of the earlier German Gew. 88 Commission rifle. It is easy to tell by the exposed five shot magazine that hangs free below the stock.
The magazine system is truly different from the Mauser in that it features a springloaded bar that pushes the individual cartridges up as the gun is cycled and it is open at the bottom for the empty clip to fall out. This is called a Mannlicher style magazine.
Also unlike a Mauser, the Hanyang 88 uses an en bloc clip that is pushed into the magazine directly until it locks. The clip allows for quick loading and controlling the feed of individual rounds into the chamber. The clip can be ejected by pushing the release in front of the trigger. Otherwise the clip will fall out of the bottom of the rifle when the last round is chambered.
The Hanyang 88 is Mauser like in its lines. The rifle features a wooden handguard over a tapered twenty six inch barrel, unlike the Gew 88. The sights consist of a rear notch graduated to 2000 meters and a fixed blade front sight. It also features two barrel bands, a steel buttplate, sling swivels, and a cleaning rod below the barrel that is typical of military rifles of the era.
Most Hanyang 88 rifles have seen their fair share of use and then some. For that reason, most of these firearms have beaten stocks and poor bores. It is reasonable to get one for just $100-150 dollars today. While some say the Hanyang is a dangerous wallhanger, made of inferior steels, this is simply not true. The fact remains that few survive in shootable condition at all. But getting my Qing dynasty era 88 up to shooting functionality was a fun and rewarding process with careful, light handloads. While I couldn’t see a practical use for the Hanyang 88 now, given the condition, it survives in my collection while more notable guns have left. Just out of respect for all these obscure rifles have seen.