Unusual Chinese 7.62x39mm


Yesterday at the range I found a couple of fired 7.62x39mm cases. They are the typical Chinese copper washed steel with a headstamp of “81 72”. The unusual thing about these cases is that the entire primer is covered in red lacquer. Back when I had many hundreds of variations of Chinese 7.62x39mm in my collection, I had exactly one ball cartridge with an all-red primer. I know that after about 1980 or so, the Chinese marked Incendiary-tracer with a red tip and all red primer. Why then were the occasional ball cartridges before this date marked with an all-red primer? It does not appear to be the result of sloppy application, and the shade of red is unlike the typical pink or amber color normally used to seal the primers. Any ideas???



Aside from “that’s just the way they did it that year,” the only “idea” (guess) I could make is that primed cases originally intended for loading as Incendiary were diverted to fill requirements for ball ammunition. Now, that said, I don’t know at what stage they apply the primer seal. If after the case is primed, that theory could hold water; if after the cartridge is loaded, it does NOT.


My idea is to ask you for a picture.
81 was not known to produce IT rounds, this was 31’s and 501’s job in the past by the way.


Again, this question of the significance of Colour of primer seals vis-a-vis actual loading rears its head.
As I mentioned on another Post in another board, a lot of times, the colour of the primer seal in NOT of any significance (Just look at the US example (Red and Black lacquer on 30/06…jost depends on year, and the supply at the particular time); other (European makers, such as FN) are the same. Of Course, NAT) ammo uses a simple method, following of all things, German practice (Ball is green, Tracer red), yet Blanks may be green or red, (TIP colour).

As to the Chinese practice, here in Australia, we too have imported millions of rounds of 7,62x39, of strictly Military origin ( Plain Military Spam-cans…I call them “sardine tins” from their wind-off seal tabs in the older stock) and so-called “Commercial” ( 20 round packets) examples…the terms Military and Commercial, in Chinese Ammo situation, mean nothing…all Chinese ammo is made in Factories owned, operated and controlled by the PLA (the Armed Forces) so, the ammo is effectively, all “Military” (if it is “FMJ” which it most certainly is.)

Now “primer lacquer colour”…Chinese ammo uses various shades of red, from “pink” to deep wine colour, as well as yellow. I have found that the colour varies with the factory and the Time frame.
As to when the colour is applied, My only experience of Soviet Bloc manufacture of ammo is a Visit to Sellier & Bellot in 1993, soon after Czech division from Slovakia, and also its shrugging off of Communism a few years earlier.

Ammunition in all the “Russian” calibres was being made on Russian style machinery, with Russian style production processes. The grey steel cases were lacquered after loading with the typical primer seals and neck seals; then the entire cases was given its clear lacquer coat by a dipping process
(Body Lacquer necessary for Bonderised steel cases); as well I observed in the "Commercial brass cartridge side, that their Pistol ammo was all Primer lacquered by small, hand operated transfer Pads, after complete assembly and “trayed” already into 25 round box trays ready to be slipped into packets. very labour intensive, but that was a hangover from the Communist days.
Now I don’t know how much of this Eastern Europe (Soviet) practice is transferable to China in our interpretation, but I would say, knowing a bit about Communist Psychology, that even though the Chinese had a falling out over doctrine with the Soviet Russians back in 1959-60, that would not have affected such mundane technological matters as Primer lacquering…

And having observed thousands of (fired) cartridge cases from the 1960s to the 1990s of 7,62x39 of Chinese origin ( Coppered Steel, Green case lacquered steel, Chocolate coloured Laquered steel) I would say the two major colours used are Yellow and Red (various shades) and that they were used on Ball cases. Thus NO relationship to other indications of “Special” or specific types of loading.
The Function of the lacquer its to seal the primer cup to the case, for Moisture proofing. The red or yellow colour is to Indicate Postively that this step has been done (Just like the Anneal colours on brass case neck and shoulder which on Military ammo are NOT Polished away…a QA indicator for acceptance protocol, dating from the 1920s ( Tsarist ammo from WW I–see Frost " The Manufacture of Ammunition" (NRA Publ.).

Also, whether the primer is completely covered by laquer or not is a function of the amount of contact by the applying head, not any indication of cartridge loading. Same observation in thousands of ball cases.

(I will add here that in making Blanks for the Movie Industry, we recycle the standard Ball case (Steel) with new Berdan primers, and simply Crimp ( “star rosette”) into a short blank, which works OK in various SA/ FA rifles; for some applications we do use “Factory” Long profile Blanks. But for economy, the short blanks still fill a major part of our 7,62x39 Blank requirements.
The cases come very cheap from Rifle Club ranges, as they are simply discarded otherwise to rust on the ground. ( about 5 cents a Kilogram).

Maybe later this year on a business trip to PRC I will get to see a production line of "Chinese " ammo, and observe the process of primer Lacquering.

Regards, Doc AV
AV Ballistics


in this Chinese case, and I can name a few others, we have to consider a significance of the primer colour:
Some Chinese arsenals started in about 1966/67 the practice to repeat the tip colour on the primer annulus. Arsenal

  • 71 introduced black annulus for the API,
  • 31 and 501 made it green for the tracer and
  • both repeated the red tip for the IT.
    By the way, on top they even left the tip colour off at all like 501 did already from about 1975.
    Arsenal 81 cases are not really famous for bearing other than ball loads. I had only one year (69) recorded with API and rumors about a year with tracer. I’m completely with you that chances here are high that this red p.a. is just another shade of no further significance. But we cannot put the above said aside.
    What we need is a picture to come closer to the truth and maybe someone has more up to date information because my records end at about 2003.


Guten Tag, Hans,

Could it be, that despite a Point colour being replicated as a primer seal colour, that this is simply a matter of convenience, rather than a specific indicator?

After all, it is the Point colour that defines the Cartridge type,in most situations, and not the primer colour ( as is the case, instead, with British .303 and other WW II era British calibres—along with specific headstamp indicators, the primer colour does define the cartridge type…also with German and Japanese MG ammo to a more limited extent.)

I would opine that whilst The Chinese use specific Point colours to ID special loads, the primer colour is “just along for the ride” due to ease of application of a single colour, rather than have two different colours to do a single cartridge.

The US system (for .30 and .50 at least) was different, as the loading Process applied the primer seal at a different point to the application of the Bullet Point code. As I mentioned earlier, the US used both Red and Black seals on primers without regard to what the Point colour was in any partuclar Lot or year. I have US made tracers (Red Point, Orange Yellow Point) with both Red or black primers…Ball with both primer colours, Blanks with three "colours (Red, Black and Clear lacquer), and so on…I have never seen a “Blue tip” (Incendiary) with other than a red or black primer seal…
So, in a general sense, outside of the Known “primer code” countries (Britain, Germany), Hardly any other country uses this double-barrel ID approach (even Japan was inconsistent in this coding practice (mostly with T92 MG ammo, where the primer colour was easily seen, whereas the neck (collet) colour was often obscured—the Japanese didn’t use Point colours.

So getting back to China, to me it seems that it is just manufacturing convenience that a particular primer colour is a replication of the ID Point colour. I admit it occurs, but don’t attach any significance to it, especially when one finds fired cases (and no Bullet point colour to refer to.).

WE certainly do need to “get it from the horse’s mouth” by actually seeing what is done in a PLA factory…

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


My personal opinion as to why the tracer and incendiary-tracer cartridges from factory 501 have the primers completely covered with the same color as the tip (and also why so many of these loads are found without any tip color) is how these cartridges were intended to be used. I beleive that these cartridges were primarily intended to be loaded into the 75 and 100 round drum magazines for the type 81 squad MG. These drums load from the back, so if one were to load a certain ratio of tracer or I-T, you can’t see the tip colors when the cartridges are in the drum, but you can easily see the primers. Covering the primer completely with the color simply aids in visual identification. The earliest use of the solid green primer seal on a tracer that I have seen is on a cartridge with the headstamp “31 68”. Any others out there?

As for the ball cartridges with solid color primer seals, it is likely to be just a manufacturing variation. I have seen examples of regular ball cartridges with a black case mouth seal and an all black primer seal. These reportedly came out of packs mixed in with cartridges having regular markings.

I will post a pic of the fired case in question when I have a chance…



Goede morgen Doc en AKMS,
this reflects my stand of information and my own personal opinion. I never saw the Chinese tip colours vary shade to the extend we know from the ball annulus. So if the case in question is just another red it is safe to say it was a ball. If the red however is that of the IT, I would not be so sure.

Could it be those were US imports with lead core bullet? I cannot recall to ever having seen such coming from battle fields, but I don’t know it all!



These are definately military ball rounds, found in sealed “spam cans”.

The headstamps I know of include “946 78”, “946 79” and “946 80”, all copper washed steel cases with a black case mouth seal and all black primer lacquer. There is also a green lacquered steel cased ball round headstamped “946 79” with the case mouth and primer seals being CLEAR. No color or pigmentation in them at all.

There has been some speculation that Chinese factory codes that do not end in a “1” were made for clandestine purposes, and this unusual coloring might support this, but these cartridges are found in cans with normal Chinese markings, including the “946” code.

At one time these were fairly common here in the US as shooter ammo. I wonder if any turned up in Australia… Doc?



The 946 and also 964 codes have shown up in Australia (both Copper and Green types) back in the late 80s and early 90s…These two headstamps were originally provisionally IDed as “Cuban” by the “SKS Book”; The marking origin of the spam cans makes the “Cuban” connection more of a “Go-between” for Insurgency in Africa; In any cases, the Chinese were selling off a lot of “clandestine” ammo about this period through the US and Australian Gun Market, either because they were scaling down their Cuba-Africa connection, or because the ammo was getting to its “use-by” date in Military terms.
As I mentioned before, “Military” and “Commercial” are mutually interchangeable terms in Chinese Ammo circles

The use of Black lacquer(or clear) may also have been a “dissimulation” on the Chinese part, to further confuse any investigator in the field…every body “knows” the Chinese use a red lacquer!!!. A Bit like the US made .30/06 with the AN40, BN40 and CN40 headstamps used at the Bay of Pigs fiasco… any shooter/investigator with half a brain would have recognised them as US-made from the construction of the case…and the design of the 20 round packets…

Nowadays the Chinese ammo market in Australia is mostly “Norinco” packets of 20 rounds, with “71” headstamps predominating, in either Chocolate lacquer or copper washed. Seals are “red”. Projectiles are supposedly “Soft core” (lead) rather than mild steel, and priming is supposedly “non-corrosive”.

Since the Semi-Auto Confiscation of 1996, there is an over-supply of pre 1990s Chinese 7,62x39 here ( all the SKS and SKK guns were supposedly destroyed (Ha Ha!); I can still pick up crates of true Military Chinese 7,62x39 ( 60s and 70s dates) for less than $20AUD per 100 rounds…I pull down the ammo, sell the .311 projectiles at $20 per hundred to target shooters for .303 Plinking loads (excellent), recycle the powder for my other small case cartridges, and fill the Berdan-primed cases with Fast Blankfire Powder and crimp for Movie Blanks… which sell for four to five times the original ball ammo cost… Most recent imports of Chinese “commercial” 7,62x39 is for Bolt action rifles (ZCZ Mini-Mauser, several Lee-Enfield conversions,some “chamber modified” .30 cal bore-type rifles, even Carcano rifles with a modified .303 barrel)…Only Professional Vermin Shooters are now allowed SKS and similar SA rifles, and then only One at a time.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics–Film Ordnance Services


Picture of the fired cases. The color on the primers is more of a red-orange instead of the red found on incendiary-tracer rounds.



this is a primer annulus colour that we have seen for “a hundred” times on ball loadings. This time my Panama-hat-bet makes me a perfectly safe winner ;-)
A pity I did not keep my Chinese, I had this h/s and it would have been nice to compare.


As luck would have it. I found some more of these fired cases at the range today. Only this time, the primer seal on some cases is all over almost 1/2 of the base! It is obvious to me now, as it should have been, that these are simply an example of too much sealant being applied!



Product quality - different strokes for different folks.