Is the People’s Republic of China about to be the latest nation to abandon the bullpup configuration in favor of the “traditional” rifle layout? That seems to be the word on the street since about September of last year, when Chinese news outlets and blogs online began publishing articles claiming the PLA had already selected a new rifle, which was set for “practical training” (troop trials) and service with the PLA Special Operations Forces before going on to replace the bullpup QBZ-95 and conventional QBZ-03 in both the PLA Ground Forces and the PLA Marines. The news articles themselves – some of which appear to be related to state-controlled media – included the header image of this article and the image below, suggesting that is the rifle that the PLA is set to adopt.
The reported reasons for replacing the QBZ-95 after such a modest service life (barely 20 years) are that the rifle’s modularity and ergonomics are limited by its design. The integral carry handle and charging handle design complicate the mounting of optics, and the bullpup layout does not allow for a collapsing or folding buttstock. In the event of a case or chamber failure, the shooter’s face is right next to the explosion, where in a conventional rifle the face is removed to a usually safe distance.
A Chinese source gave TFB an alternate narrative: The two different rifles shown in the photos were a part of an older program (dating to 2014) which sought to develop a new conventional layout rifle (bullpups were not considered). As part of this program, the rifle shown in the image directly above was allegedly cancelled due to a breach of secrecy when an employee of the company leaked that and other images online. This program as a whole was reportedly also cancelled, and was superseded by a new program which, the source said, resulted in the development of an entirely new rifle that visually resembles the Magpul Masada/Remington ACR, chambered for the standard Chinese 5.8x42mm round. No images of this new rifle have yet been released, but it is supposed to already be a finished design that has passed some degree of the selection process with the Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission and may even be in troop trials now.
Thanks to Kurtis and Akula for the tip!