Back in the 1980s and 90s, you could get a great deal on a 9mm Tokarev copy, if you didn't mind the wonky lettering on the slide. 

In 1951, as part of a short-lived period of Revolutionary Co-Prosperity with Moscow, Mao's China and Stalin's Soviet Union shared the technology package to build the TT-33 Tokarev pistol design in the land of The Red Dragon. In short order, an estimated 250,000 Tokarev clones, made with a mixture of donated Soviet and new-made Chinese parts, came off the lines as the new Type 51 pistol. A few years later, the design was gently modified into the all-Chinese Type 54, a pistol that remained in Chinese front-line service well into the 1990s and still exists in second-line armories. 

Fast forward through Nixon's rapprochement with Communist China and the normalization of trade between the two Pacific giants, and in 1980, the China North Industries Corporation, better known as Norinco, was formed. Within a few years, tons of new-made Norinco firearms, including SKS and AK pattern rifles, were being shipped to the U.S. for sporting purposes. 

This brings us to the Norinco TU-90 and 213.

With stocks of 7.62x25 Tokarev, the standard fodder for the Type 54, non-existent on American shelves in the 1980s, it was hit on the idea to convert the design to use more common, but shorter in length, 9mm NATO. As a fix, early models of simply used the same standard TT-33/Type 54 magazine with a spacer inserted along the length of the spine and a 9mm barrel. Imported briefly as the Norinco TU-90, it used a heavy plastic grip presumably with the concept that Americans needed more beef than the traditional Commie-type flat panels. It also had one of the goofiest manual safeties ever invented – to meet import requirements – but we'll get into that. 

Norinco 213 pistol
The TU-90 style of TT-33/Type-54 used oversized grips and a magazine with a spacer in it to accommodate 9mm. (Photo: Francis Borek/ 

This very soon morphed into the Norinco 213, of which some were imported in the TU-90 style with the funky grips and spaced magazines and in an updated format that used standard Tok-style grip panels and a spacer in the magazine well to use a more dedicated (and reliable) 9mm single-stack magazine. 

Norinco 213 pistol
Behold, the Norinco 213! (Photo: Chris Eger/
Norinco 213 pistol
With a 4.5-inch barrel and 31-ounce weight, the Norinco 213 is an 8+1 9mm that is roughly the same size as an M1911 Government Issue. (Photo: Chris Eger/
Norinco 213 pistol
The 213 got around the 9mm feeding issue by using a magazine specifically designed for 9mm while plugging part of the magazine well of the pistol itself. (Photo: Chris Eger/

This confusing difference between 213 models leaves collectors over here to deem the original TU-90 style guns as "wide grip" models while the second style that utilized the plugged magazine well instead of the plugged magazine as the "narrow grip" version.

Norinco even tried to get in on the Wondernine train of the 1990s with a double-stack variant of the pistol, the 213A, which was redesigned to accept a 14-round magazine that looked cloned from the Browning Hi-Power. 

Speaking of Browning...

The Tokarev series itself was based on the work of John Moses Browning, which is unsurprising as the Tsar's military and police bought several runs of Mr. Browning's early semi-auto pistols long before the Reds took power in 1917. The influence, as we have pointed out before in detail, is easy to see. 


Norinco 213 pistol compared to Browning 1903
The Norinco 213 compared to the Browning-designed Colt M1903. (Photo: Chris Eger/
Norinco 213 compared to Swedish Browning
The Norinco 213, right, compared to the Swedish Husqvarna Vapenfabriks Model 1907 pistol, the latter a license-built Browning Model 1903 in .380. Holy copyright infringement, Batman! 
Norinco 213
The gun strips like most other Browning designs, complete with a barrel bushing. (Photo: Francis Borek/ 

The 213 is homely and was imported by a host of folks- – California-based BTC, JPE, and KSI, all typically marked "Pomona," as well as Sport Arms in Florida.

Norinco 213
The lettering on the slide is typically comical on most Norinco 213s imported to the U.S. and will usually be uneven, both in layout and depth. Note the "66" in a pyramid marking of the company's Shenyang-based Factory 66 (Photo: Chris Eger/
Norinco 213
Sport Arms-marked 213s are a bit on the rare side, as most were marked to a host of fly-by-night California importers. (Photo: Chris Eger/

While the shoddy lettering can be shrugged off, the downright bewildering frame-mounted safety cannot. Rickety in nature, it is similar to the one seen on the earlier Hungarian-made Tokagypt (a 9mm Tokarev clone made for Nasser's Egypt by FEG), but probably isn't as reliable. Remember folks, trigger discipline and muzzle awareness are key, leaving you to judge all mechanical safeties as highly suspect, especially on Chinese pistols made in the 1980s. Oh yeah, and it is non-instinctive as well, with it having to be pushed forward to engage and to the rear to fire, so there's that.

The concept of a 9mm Tok isn't dumb, as Zastava in Serbia has been making the M70AA – which clearly drinks from the same pond as the Norinco 213 and FEG Tokagypt – for years.

Still, the Norinco 213 has a reputation of being functional, is milled from steel, accepts a lot of Tokarev-pattern parts, and, as a series of White House administrations dropped the ban hammer on Chinese pistol imports, they've been blocked for import to the U.S. since the early 1990s. This makes them collectible to those who like oddball firearm designs, banned things, and shooty bits in general. 

Norinco 213
From China with love...

Of course, it didn't have to be that way, as Norinco still makes a ton of unauthorized pistol clones of the P226 (NP58), P228 (NP34), CZ 75 (NZ75), and even still makes the 213, now called the NP17, all of which are available (for now at least) in the People's Republic of Canuckistan, where handgun sales are 'a boomin.

revolver barrel loading graphic