The first effort of adopting a small caliber smokeless powder cartridge repeating rifle was made in 1899. After the disaster of First Sino-Japanese War, Qing government was starting to build a new Army equipped with modern weapons. This new army mainly equipped with Mannlicher, Gew 88 and Chinese Copy of Gew 88.
At the period, the most advanced rifle can be produced domestically were the Chinese copy of German Gew88 rifle and Jiangnan Arsenal’s Kuaili rifle which chambered in its propriety .303 cartridge. Qing Government wanted to adopt a standard issued rifle to replace its wide variety of rifles from muzzle loading Enfield P1858 to Gew 88.
Qing government conducted comparison tests of Gew 88 and Kuaili between 1897 and 1898. Chinese copy Gew 88 won out the competition. Chinese copy Gew 88 became the first standard issue rifle in terms of the Emperor’s edict. However, as we’ve known today, Emperor’s decree never been fully implemented. The Emperor’s edict issued in 1898 required all of arsenals shall produce one standard type rifle. Kuali rifle ceased production by a decree from the Emperor around 1898/1899 though many of even older rifles like Mauser Mod.71 still in production.
At the same time, Governors-General of Huguang, Zhang Zhidong, proposed to adopt a new small bore repeating rifle with a brand new caliber. From Feb through June 1899, he sent a series of letters and telegrams to Governors-General of Zhi’Li, Yu Lu, and Governors-General of Liangjiang, Liu Kunyi, talking about his idea of the new small bore rifle.
In his first telegraph to Yulu and Liu in Feb. 22th, he stated “foreign countries are adopting small caliber rifle cartridges which saves money and materials…I believe we should change our rifle caliber as soon as possible…as I consulted with technicians, 6.2m/m is a proper choice. In March 3rd, he wrote another letter to Liu said “if 6.2m/m is too small, 6.7m/m also can be considered”. He presented Liu with examples of Japanese 6.5 Arisaka, Italian 6.5 Carcano as well as US 6m/m Navy Lee in his letter.
Jiang Nan Arsenal Official Wang Shishou and a foreign technician arrived in Hanyang in early March. A meeting was held by Hanyang Arsenal to determine the caliber. This meeting’s result was included in April 4th Zhang’s telegraph to Liu. In which Zhang explained advantages of small caliber rifles again. He also noted Jiang Nan Arsenal has not yet produce large volume of Gew 88, it would be a better choice if they changed to produce new caliber rifle now. And after thorough discussion on the meeting, the caliber would be changed to 6.75m/m of which drawing has been done.
Why Zhang tried to persuade Liu Kunyi and Yu Lu? Because Liu as Governors-General of Liangjiang, controlled Kiang nan Arsenal and Yu Lu as Governors-General of Zhili controlled Tianjin Arsenal. Both were powerful high officials in the court with great influence. The first step to make Emperor accept his idea, Zhang had to earn their support and make a move together.
Unfortunately, Zhang’s effort of adoption of new caliber never received positive responses from both. Liu did not get along well with Zhang, he told Zhang that Jiang Nan did not have enough money to buy machines and tooling for a new caliber. Its top priority is making enough rifles to meet demands of army.
Although Zhang’s first effort to adopt small caliber cartridge failed, but his thoughts talked in his communications later became the basic principle of adopting small bore rifle cartridge. He expressed three main points in aspect of technics: (1) Small caliber cartridge is lighter as well as does the rifle, thus soldiers are able to carry more ammunition, (2) Small caliber cartridge has flat trajectory and higher muzzle velocity which increasing the probability of hit and accuracy, (3) Small caliber cartridge costs less materials to produce. Besides, he insisted China should adopt an unique rifle caliber so that enemy cannot capture and use it. In the last year (1898) Germans occupied and established Qingdao as its far east colony. Zhang said “we do not need to use the same cartridge as Germans does.” This suggestion became an important rule of adopting new caliber afterwards and explains why Chinese chose the very unique 6.8 m/m caliber of the time.
Zhang also refuted the allegation that the power of small caliber cartridge is weak by explaining that they had organised several tests showing as the rifle caliber decrease the penetration depth increase.