Mystery Chinese Pistol

I’m sure everyone has heard a second or third hand story about someone finding a total steal on a gun at an estate sale or auction. Heck, I’ve had a few great moments that start to get close to that myself – but I’ve not yet actually found a gun at a yard sale, much less a really neat gun at one.

Well, I got an email from reader Tim looking for information about a weird pistol. That he had gotten at a yard sale. For $40. That rotten SOB. ­čÖé

Chinese mystery pistol

Chinese mystery pistol

It is apparently Chinese, and chambered for 7.63mm Mauser. It’s not a design I know anything about, so I looked it up in Bin Shih’s book on Chinese small arms, where I found photos of two very similar looking pieces, both listed as “unknown”.

Chinese mystery pistol

Chinese mystery pistol and mag

The best I can do is some speculation, so let’s consider what we can tell from these photos (Tim didn’t send any pictures of the internals). First off, I think it’s a save assumption that this was a very limited production piece, if not outright handmade. The crude shaping of the trigger guard, the not-quite-parallel serrations on the slide, and the non-symmetrical grooves in the grip panels suggest that. The gun does have a 5-digit serial number, but that is not necessarily indicative of mass production, particularly in China.

The grip panels bear a lot of resemblance to those of a Mauser C96, which was a very popular pistol in China, and it is chambered for the same 7.63×25 cartridge. This chambering would have been because of the Mauser’s popularity, and it would definitely not be the more powerful 7.62×25 Tokarev. The Tokarev round would be used by the Chinese Communists later on, but this pistol most likely dates from the 1920s or early 1930s, before the Tokarev was in use anywhere.

The barrel and frame layout bear some similarity to the Mauser 1910/1914/1934 (which was also imported and known in China), and the firing mechanism is probably based on the Eibar/Ruby design (which was another very popular type of pistol in China). Those pistols have concealed hammers, but it would be a simple and desirable change to expose them, as on this design. The round-bottomed magazine, of course, if distinctive and quite unusual, probably being made simply to match the contour of the C96 style grip.

If anyone else has more information on this pistol or designs like it, we’d love to hear it!


  1. Fixed barrel, that greatly limits your options for a locked mechanism. Are we looking at a 7.63 Mauser blow-back? In that case’ I’m looking forward to your video trying it ;).

  2. The need for pistols in 1911-1949 China was great.There are distinctly Chinese features like the bag grip and basic 1900 Browning spring and breechblock assembly. These pistols usually have C96 hammers and really curious markings. They were usually chambered in 7.65×17 (ie 32 ACP). They were in use because of the arms embargo imposed on China in the years leading to WW2. Such pistols are still found in SE Asia along with everything that shoots. These mystery pistols are usually hand made or crudely machined. It should be noted that DPRK copied and probably still does copy a variant of the 1900 Browning and a pistol that seems to be inspired by the Browning 1910. These are for police and not front line military (who use a variant of the T33)
    These pistols were also made in Cambodia after the 1956 firearms ban. These mystery pistols were intended to be serious weapons Many variants are illustrated in Zuk’s book the handgun. One will note there are some fit with holster stocks like the C96. These are fun examples of how determined people who desire weapons will make them if there is a need. Excellent presentation.

    • Just a couple small corrections / expansions on Korea, North

      The M1900 has strong symbolic value as it was used by a Korean patriot to whack a Japanese overlord. As part of the “juche” nationalism that’s one leg of the weird ideology of Nork, they reproduced the 1900. It is chambered in .32 ACP as is the M64 police pistol (which looks and takes down like a 1910). It’s a but odd that they repop’d the 1900, I think it would creep me out if the SErbs redid Gavril Princip’s Browning 1910. Or some shop in Virginia made repros of Booth’s derringer. But that’s just me.

      The TT33 variant you are thinking of is the M68. It’s still very widespread but is no longer their first line gun, that is the 9×19 Baek-du-san which is a copy of a mid-1980s CZ-75. Unlike other CZ copies (Tanfoglio, EAA) it’s not licensed.

      I agree that home manufacturing and clandestine workshops spring up when guns are banned (many times the gun ban is accompanied by other rights violations that stir up a spirit of resistance). I’ve seen Chinese, Vietnamese, European WWII resistance and also criminal workshop guns from many nations. The most common change from a successful design is a caliber change, like China’s .45 “Mausers” (made in a proper gun factory, and subject of much collector interest), or the 7.62×25 Thompson of unknown origin that was captured in Vietnam.

      We seldom captured handguns in Afghanistan, but the ones we got tended to be similar garage-workshop creations. The Afghans (more likely, the Pashtun cousins of the Adam Khel tribe in Afghanistan) seldom strayed far from a factory prototype. They often faked factory markings, but seldom faked proof marks, and I did encounter one .32 Beretta Model 1934 that was marked “Made in Pakistan.” A friend saw one in 9×18 Makarov, which must have been pretty punishing. Lots of Enfield and Webley revolvers (including ones set up for 9×18 with half-moon clips!) and lots of long guns, most interesting perhaps were Swedish K (Carl Gustav M45B) copies. Technically those were probably copies of the Port Said copy, as we scarfed up a few Port Saids but no original M45Bs.

      The metallurgy on the copy guns tends to be dodgy, but the originals were often overdesigned enough that, as long as it’s steel, it’s OK to shoot. I’ve seen guns with cast aluminum slides and barrels and wouldn’t shoot that without ten yards of 550 cord.

      • But the real thing does also surfaces in A-Stan. A month ago I’ve seen (hands-on) a battered and rusty – but very real genuine Swedish Carl Gustaf m/45B early variant(parkerized, no enamel, no hook-like rear-cap reinforcement, detachable magazine funnel etc.) captured in Ghazni Province by Polish troops. I dig Swedish K’s so I can tell you, that was NOT a local copy.

  3. on a forum i have seen a very similar looking pistol that was taken by an american soldier off a captured german during ww2, it loaded from the top with stripper clips i believe but looked virtually identical. it was decided it was an experimental pistol from russia. if only i could remember where i saw it…

  4. Striper clips from the top? German soldier? Austrian maybe?
    I think you┬┤re talking about a Steyr Hahn, duchamp. It has a rotating barrel, but with the slide open it resembles this chinese alien

  5. i am familiar with the steyr hahn, the pistol to which i am refering was very similar to this. i have found a different discussion which ian refers to, but haven’t found the discussion i was thinking of, i will keep looking.

  6. I found some pictures of some more of them.
    Including a carbine version.
    I’m kind of busy now, I’ll post them as soon as I can.

  7. Ok, now I know I’ve seen something like that before. I’m pretty sure a gun with that style grip was tested along side the tt33 when the USSR was looking for a semi auto pistol to replace the Nagant revolver, but I can’t remember the name of the gun.

    • The second link you gave, there is a symbol of a sun, which is similar to the Chinese KMT, maybe it is a Chinese copy from a local Chinese arsenal during the second world war

  8. ive got a weird pistol that my step dad had in the safe in pieces that i put back together and it looks like a Russian pistol but yet i don’t know when i can get pics of it it looks to be .32 or .380 and it looks a little like a tt33 but its not that large

  9. This is a fairly common type pistol of Chinese
    pattern. Simplified Mauser 1910 and Beretta 1914
    lay out in some C96 clothing. Simplifying achieved
    as sacrifying safety features and using crude
    fastening elements like screws. Barrel for instance,
    is fixed on receiver by two screws in front and at
    rear through underlugs.

    Mauser C96 round can be safely used in blowback
    pattern with a slide weigthing approximately 900
    grams. But the sample’s looks lighter. However, in
    hammer firing guns provided with correct contacts,
    mainspring may compensate lack of mass to a degree
    and builders of this gun should have been learned
    it with countless try and error experiments.

  10. There’s a whole section on limited run Chinese handguns in A.B. Zhuk’s book of line drawings, “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns”. They were generally custom made to order for whatever Chinese warlord or local military or police official needed a batch of handguns to arm his men. The requirements were generally pretty loose, ie “About this long, about this weight, this many shots, and this caliber”. They were often made to resemble popular foreign guns, the M1900 Browning in particular.

    There used to be a guy who came to the Ohio Gun Collector’s Association (OGCA) shows in Cleveland who specialized in these. He said that there were a million variations and hardly anybody wanted them, so they were cheap to buy. I gather that they generally came back in sea bags, anywhere between the Yangtze Flotilla days and the end of the Korean War.

  11. Hi,
    your Pistol maybe a Chinese Pistol, like those mentioned by Chris Morton. Or maybe a so called Khyber Pass pistol, made in the Khyber pass aerea. The people there do also a lot of copying popular foreign guns like the pistols of J. M. Browning.
    Sometimes with a copy of the original factory markings, but with no correct spelling (example. Broning, Fabric National etc.), sometimes without any markings. Also the guns are made in some different style or for some different ammo than the original.
    I have seen pictures of an rough copy of an FN M-1900 or an enlarged FN M-1910 in 9 mm Luger.
    I guess these guns are very risky to shoot and only an exotic piece for a firearms collection.

  12. I am the owner of this weapon, and believe you me it is a great conversation piece. I have it displayed in my office. Still not sure what exactly it is. But it is different. The serial number is even unique 54321
    Thanks for all the comments and info. I am printing this all out to put with the weapon, so maybe it will help the next owner.

  13. I know I’m late to the party but there’s a YouTube video called “Rare Weapons of the Vietnam war” made by the channel “jmantime” that claims at some point pretty early in the video that an identical-looking weapon shown is a “Cao Dai pistol”, which was handmade by the NVA/VC primarily using railroad metal, they were chambered in outdated ww2 cartridges in order to make use of their supplies

    • Actually the video’s “Rare viet Minh and Viet Cong weapons of the Vietnam war” also that means it could’ve been Viet-Minh

  14. I work in a military museum in china and we have a lot of pistols like the one you show.
    This one is mostly based on a CZ 1938 pistol´╝łwe have at least 2 more which looks like this one but not the same´╝ë
    these pistols are made in small workshops and there’s no mark at all
    Also there’s more ´╝îwhich based on Styer 1901 and Mauser C96 which mixed with the design of other guns
    For lack of data´╝îit’s difficult to make the history of these mystery chinesepistols clear

    • Thank you for your information. I will only display this weapon. As I am sure it has a lot of history. And I really like the serial # 54321

      • Sorry for bothering´╝îand coule you tell me your e-mail address´╝îi have some photos that i’d like to share with you.thanks

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