What is the T97?
It is a .223 bullpup with a 19” barrel that uses a short stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt, along with a reciprocating charging handle. At its core, the Type 97 is a civilian version of the Chinese QBZ-95 rifle; standard issue to the Peoples Liberation Army.
With a retail price just under a $1000, the T97 is the robust, capable black-rifle that any Canadian can afford to own and shoot, despite our flawed firearms legislation.
This is the latest version, imported by North Sylva as the T97NSR, manufactured by EMI (aka Norinco) in the People’s Republic of China.
Rather than the proprietary 5.8x42mm cartridge, the Type 97 has been converted to 5.56x45mm for the Canadian market. Along with commonly available ammunition, the T97 also benefits from STANAG magazine compatibility rather than using the curved rock-in magazines specific to the military’s rifles.
The design of the Type 97 really reflects a 90s idea of small arms. Any kind of “modularity” is built around proprietary parts. There is a scope rail, but it’s specific to Chinese military optics. There is a flash hider, but not only is it pinned and welded, it uses a non-standard metric thread. As the product of a communist country: user experience comes second to the requirements of manufacture. Concepts like ambidexterity, customization, and standardization with other small arms are not prioritized.
The most glaring ergonomic flaw is the safety. It is positioned on the back of the rifle just below the shooters cheek and requires a full 180 degree rotation from Safe to Fire. The most recent QBZ rifles have been updated with a safety at the pistol grip (similar to an AR-15 or Tavor) but for years the entire family including the T97 have been stuck with this almost inaccessible safety.
Another design unique to the T97 rifle is the magazine release. Having been retrofit with a STANAG magazine well, the release lever leaves something to be desired. A button about the size of a pencil eraser sits on the right side of the rifle, leaving the shooter to go through a variety of contortions to remove and re-insert a magazine.
Some users reach their reaction hand into their arm-pit and release the magazine with their index finger, while others imitate a PLA manual of arms by using their firing hand to strip the magazine. (This is what I found most natural)
But that doesn’t mean there is no expanding the platform. The core of the rifle can be stripped away from almost all its plastic components, which certainly opens the door for industrious local entrepreneurs to produce aftermarket chassis systems, one of which is already in the testing stage: