Today, we’re going to look at a fascinating part of American, and Chinese, firearms history, the Norinco MAK 90 (sometimes misspelled as MAC 90). Here, we’ll start with some general specifications for the MAK90, before getting into the history and where it currently sits in the American firearms market.
Mak 90 Specs
The MAK 90 or “Modified AK, 1990”, is a semi-automatic Type 56 assault rifle, chambered in 7.62×39, and produced by Norinco beginning in the year 1990. Generally, these guns were imported with 3, 5-round magazines and wood furniture including a thumbhole stock. They are by official definition, sporting rifles. But, if you look at it, it sure looks an awful lot like an AK47. This is where things get interesting historically.
Here, three threads are relevant if we’re trying to answer the question: is a MAK-90 an AK47. Those threads are the Chinese, Soviet, and American threads, and they weave together quite a tale.
Check out this custom animation video we created detailing the history of the Mak 90:
From the Chinese perspective, these guns are, in effect, AK47s. Many MAK90s were made on the stamped Type-56 receivers, which are the Chinese variant of the AKM. These came in about any configuration you can think of, from unfolding, short-barreled models for tank crews to long-barreled versions sporting big stocks and bipods. The main distinction of the MAK-90 is that it was only ever made in semi-automatic, making it eligible for importation, for example, into the lucrative private firearms market in the USA.
Norinco is the government-owned armory for the Chinese: they’ve also been exporting civilian arms for years, many of them copies of other nations’ designs. For example, our friends in Canada can get a Norinco copy of the M14 that was, supposedly, made from reverse-engineered copies of rifles captured in Vietnam.
If you ask the then Soviet Union, the MAK-90 is not an AK. That’s because the Chinese did not pay a royalty, nor did they get tooling, from the USSR to make the weapons. Instead, they’re apparently illegal, patent-infringing variants of the stamped AKM. This is emblematic of what most Americans overlook during this period of the late Cold War: despite being both ostensibly communist nations, the USSR and the PRC did not get along very well with each other, only really cooperating when their collective problem, the USA or NATO, made trouble, for instance, in Korea and Vietnam.
From the American perspective, the MAK-90 is in no way whatsoever an AK47. This is because, in 1989, George HW Bush interpreted the 1968 Gun Control Act through an executive order that banned the importation of assault rifles along two grounds. First was by name: the AK47 was named explicitly. The second was by a set of features, including pistol grips, bayonet lugs, and folding stocks, among many other, largely cosmetic features that apparently terrified the then-Republican government. A ban was passed without a law being written by congress, and thus the AK47 was banned, ending, for instance, the possibility of post-Soviet imports.
The MAK-90, on the other hand, was a sporting rifle that had a thumbhole stock, no ability to accept a bayonet, and even did away with the awful, terrifying threaded barrel by the addition of a penny’s worth of tack weld on the muzzle brake. As far as George HW Bush, the ATF, and Uncle Sam are concerned, the MAK90 is no more an AK47 than is your Remington model 700” both are sporting rifles.
The Chinese AK47
The MAK-90, is, in effect, a Chinese AK. It takes all standard AK magazines meant for 7.62×39 guns and functions exactly the same way that every AK platform rifle has since the year 1947. There are also a few benefits to the MAK-90 when compared to some imports that were made after the Assault Weapons Ban came into force under later administrations.
Foremost among these is that the MAK-90s were imported as complete, functioning firearms that took AK magazines, and the Chinese have gotten excellent at making AKs. This means that, as long as no one has done anything silly to them in the least 30 years, a MAK 90 is a good, reliable AK-style firearm. They generally shoot well, and, thanks to the chrome-lined barrels, eat cheap steel-cased ammunition for breakfast, lunch, and dinner without issues.
Thanks to their being imported before more draconian rules being put into place, the MAK-90 also has a standard AK magazine well: the modified magazine wells of later rifles from the former USSR are a persistent source of feeding issues, which is a large part of what earned the AK a bad reputation among American shooters. I, for one, would much rather a factory magazine well over one made by a warehouse worker with a grinder.
Modifying the MAK-90 is a little bit of a challenge. As with an AK, if you want to change a stock type, for example, it requires a lot of messing with the rear trunion, which a lot of people won’t want to do. Similarly, since AKs are often rough copies of one another, furniture from different nations’ weapons will likely require a fair bit of fitting.
With all of that said, if you want a Chinese-made AK47 style weapon in the USA, the MAK 90 is about the best you’re likely to get any time soon, unless by some miracle the international scene changes remarkably and we can import civilian Type 56s in from the People’s Republic.
Honestly, it would be less of a pain to order a brand-new, USA made AK, but if you want a Chinese weapon, which is a little rarer in the USA, then the MAK 90 is an excellent addition to a collection of imported firearms and is more than up to tasks of hunting, self-defense, and even competition shooting in the right hands.
According to the Russians and the Americans, the answer is no. Most people (and the Chinese) would say yes the MAK90 is an AK. And it takes standard AK magazines as well from the factory.
The MAK was designed to meet the importation requirements of the US under a 1989 interpretation of the 1968 Gun Control Act, and thus lacks some of the features of the AK, such as a pistol grip, bayonet lug, or possible folding stock and threaded barrel.
George has been an avid shooter for twenty years. He began shooting when he was gifted a Browning SA-22 for target practice. Now, as an academic, he combines his love of firearms and knowledge of history to write for firearms blogs and is still a frequent sight at the local range.
Owned several. Picked up my1st for $150 at gun show in Tacoma. Stamped, thumb stock w/ 30 rnd. Heavy enough but added 100 drum made it way ridiculous. Swapped thumb for folder. Made considerable difference but still weighty. Fun but was tired of lugging it around. Traded for KelTec Sub2000.. apples n oranges.
I hope you didn’t trade even because your Chinese AK is worth about $1,200.
I am a sub 2000 FAN…I had a Gen 1 but I sold it BACK to my cousin because I had to either buy a $100.oo Kel tec rail or a ~ $200 Red Lion indexing rail to get what I wanted OR just sell Gen 1 and buy a Gen 2…The Gen 2 Sub 2000 will be my next Rifle purchase…. Can’t see trading a MAK for a Sub 2000 though
I bought two of these back in 94 or 95 and have put thousands of rounds through them. Not a single misfire, no issues whatsoever. Yep, the stock is butt ugly and pretty uncomfortable, but these things flat out shoot anything I put in them. Great gun, and back then at about $250 each, a great price.
I bought a MAK90 new back in 1992 one of the few with a milled receiver, never had an issue with it. It eats whatever I feed it.
I bought one back in 1993 for $280 in Tualatin, OR. I’ve put several thousand rounds through it and not a single jam. I’ve put many different sets of furniture on it through the years and final put it all back to stock a few months ago. The stock may be ugly compared to the AK we’re all used to but having original MAK 90 furniture makes it a MAK 90 and that’s special.
Curious if anyone has modified the original Wood Thumb Stock into a Druganov style. ..If so, I sure would like to see the results.
Yep I did and it looks awesome.
Picked up my 386 MAK 90 a couple years back for two and a half. Last guy painted it all black including the wood. Stripped that, restrained the wood and put a Romanian stock on her. Took a bit of time. Only problem I have shooting is when the fore grips smoke and I have to replace the ammo.
I love the thumb stock love the wood furniture
that Thumbhole stock is Easy Peasy fitted with finger grooves and the stock is wielded with one hand Firmly sans slipping. CAUTION on removal of wood where the long Stock Retainer Screw goes up into the receiver. Check Often because the Square lower receiver housing the formed screw nut Will poke through.
This is the most under-rated AK available. The trigger is the best stock trigger, period; the heat treating of the hammer is the best around; chrome lined barrel is indestructible. As mentioned by other commenters – never a single misfire, ever, with steel-cased Russian ammo. I saw these for sale at gun shows in Georgia in the 90’s, piled high to the ceiling, and thought, “cheap Chinese garbage”. Now I wish I had a room full of them.