|Rifle||Arisaka 6-5 Rifle||Manufacturer||Taiyuan Arsenal|
|Action||Rotation Bolt||Barrel Length||31.5″|
|Magazine||5 rounds staggered||Weight||9 lbs|
The tale of the Shanxi Warlord Yan Xishan is incredible. His attempts to develop a neutral province with a truly modern military force may have ultimately failed, but they did see him govern from 1912 through the warlord period, unification, revolts, the Japanese invasion, and ultimately retreating from the Chinese Civil War. This is a story about one of his guns.
From the beginning, Yan Xishan was a modernizer and invested proudly in his arsenal in the capital of the Shanxi Province. In various maneuvers to effect or hide production the arsenal changed names repeatedly. We will just call it the Taiyuan Arsenal for simplicity’s sake. The bulk of the arsenal was established in 1920 with Yan importing machinery and hiring foreign and domestic staff to upgrade an existing machine works plant. Tooling mostly came from Germany and the staff were Chinese technicians trained in the United States, Shanxi, and Hanyang. Around 1930 the arsenal was equipped with 15,000 staff members and 3,800 pieces of machinery. Munitions and mortars were early products but expansion brought about copies of the U.S. Thompson SMG, German C96 “Broomhandle” in .45acp, ZB-26 LMGs, and even a 6.5mm Chauchat.
Our particular interests fall on rifle production. Yan Xishan’s training in Japan impressed on him just how far a country could develop militarily in a short period. He was determined to take the best available arms from other nations. Quite wisely, he selected the strongest standard issue bolt action rifle ever made: The Type 38 Arisaka.
The Type 38 deserves an article all its own in fine detail but we should cover some basics. It was a complete redesign and overhaul of the Japanese Type 30 and Type 35 rifles under Major Kijiro Nambu. His work, along with features from the previous rifles produced an elegant and robust military rifle. The Type 38 features a Mauser-like bolt head, extractor, and flush 5-round staggered magazine. Locking was upgraded with shallow, long lugs that provide a large locking surface and extreme strength. The interior of the bolt is unique to the Arisaka. Designed to use a minimum number of parts, the cock-on-close action features a mushroom cap-like safety at the rear of the bolt that can be worked easily with the heel of a hand, requiring no fine manipulation by gloved or injured fingers. This component additionally acts as a shield against escaping gas from a ruptured case and, along with relief holes bored in the receiver and channels permitted around the forward lugs, further protects the shooter. The safety knob also holds the firing pin spring captive, pressing it into the hollow firing pin body. The trigger interacts with a seer that features a stud designed to fit a recess in the bolt. If the bolt is not in battery, the seer cannot rock and therefore the rifle cannot fire out of battery. The rear of the receiver features a solid metal shape behind the bolt handle when closed. This is an additional locking point and its rounded shape helps leverage the bolt down during the cocking phase of operation. Early rifles featured a long rear sight with a battle sight set for 300 meters and an adjustable rear ladder from 400 to 2,400 meters.
Taiyuan Arsenal’s copy is so accurate a duplicate of the earliest version of the Type 38 that it is believed to be made on Japanese equipment sold to the warlord. Some minor variations appear but most components (like barrels and threaded screws) share exact characteristics with rifles phased out of production in 1919. Plenty of time for surplus sale.
Whatever the rifle was called in Shanxi, its present name as the “6-5 Infantry Rifle” is taken from collector circles. It is a translation of the vertically arranged characters on the top of the receiver “六五 步槍.” Early series rifles will feature three additional characters. “造晋” crosses the top; meaning “Made in Jin.” The old Kingdom of Jin character was used as something of a formal name for Shanxi Province. The third character, “田” appears before early serial numbers and most likely stands for the inspector.
Other differences from the Type 38 are invisible to the naked eye, except that Taiyuan did not copy the two-piece Japanese stock. Perhaps because they had harder wood available, they did not bother with the extra dovetail work. They were all cut for dust covers but we have not found an example with one still attached. Taiyuan also produced copies of the Type 30 bayonet but no markings have been noted. It is likely they represent some of the entirely unmarked Type 30 bayonets noted in the market.
Production numbers are estimated just over 100,000 and an American Intelligence Report in 1930 would project a manufacturing duration of at least four years. Chinese sources cite from 1929 through 1930. With such conflict the dates get somewhat speculative, centered on 1930. We would bet on production from 1929 through 1933-34 with Yan’s exile explaining the change in markings. While Chinese firearm quality is usually somewhat suspect, Taiyuan seems to have made a quality product. Certainly, the Type 38 action is overbuilt for the 6.5mm cartridge. A qualified gunsmith should be consulted before firing any C&R, but we cannot see a historical reason not to shoot your 6-5 Rifle.
The story of the 6-5 Rifle’s service life is really the somewhat shortened story of Yan Xishan, who ruled over the Shanxi Province from 1911 until the Northern Expedition. He joined with Chiang Kai Shek in 1927 and was acknowledged as the governor of Shanxi. In 1929 he allied with Feng Yuxiang, Li Zongren, and Wang Jingwei in a revolt to establish a single government in northern China. Despite early successes their efforts did fail and Yan Xishan fled to Manchuria.
Yan learned of the plan to invade Manchuria and publicly showed an interest in collaboration while privately despising the Japanese motives. Meanwhile, the Shanxi province’s leadership had collapsed from in-fighting at a time when their modernized arsenal and army would have made an excellent buffer against a Japanese Manchuria. Prompting from Zhang Xueliang, the “Young Marshall” and fear of a Japanese-controlled Shanxi forced Chiang Kai Shek to allow Yan Xishan to quietly reassume control of his province in 1931.
Manchuria did fall to Japan later in 1931 and Shanxi immediately began supplying guerrilla forces resisting the occupation. Yan Xishan also leveraged China’s lack of a response to the invasion as a pretext to expel Kuomintang officials and police from the province. He was effectively independent again. He also sent his army to occupy Suiyuan after hearing reports it was the next goal for Japanese puppet forces.
In 1936 Yan was forced to turn his attention towards Communists recruiting in his province and fought a bloody conflict which wasn’t won until Chiang Kai Shek’s forces intervened to help. During this same period, Japanese-backed Manchurian troops invaded Suiyuan and established the puppet government of Mengjiang. All of this was tiring, but in July of 1937 the Japanese invaded Beijing.
Realizing the real threat of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) invasion, Yan made a pre-emptive strike into the Mengjiang territory and scattered Mongolian and Manchurian puppet troops. The IJA pushed back in force and drove the Shanxi forces out before pressing on towards their capitol in Taiyuan. Realizing that defeat was a matter of time for his forces alone, Yan invited the Communist Eighth Route Army to enter the province. They harassed the rear of the IJA while he held Taiyuan, until November of 1937.
There is much more to this story and we recommend you read it. However, the Chinese supply of 6.5mm ammunition was lost and the Arisaka were replaced with Mausers. As an epilogue they likely saw service with puppet forces and rebels before many fell into the People’s Militias post war, some even being converted to 7.62x39mm.
They may not win any beauty contests but the 6-5 Rifles recall conflicts rarely discussed in the Western Hemisphere and help display the tangled mess of shifting alliances and factions in the Chinese wars. So if you’ve ever wanted to purchase a rifle that has “been there” you couldn’t do much better.