I had a few days to kill in Beijing prior to my trip to North Korea, so before leaving the United States I started researching some of the sites I wanted to visit. I knew that I couldn’t miss the typical Beijing tourist attractions such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, but I also wanted to get out of the city and see the Great Wall, so I began perusing the websites of travel agencies that offered excursions to various sections of the Great Wall. Most of the tours consisted of a half day trip to a section of the Great Wall followed by a tour of the Ming Tombs or Summer Palace. Now, no offense to anyone who is a diehard fan of Chinese history, but neither of those sites sounded particularly appealing to me. After further searching, however, I came across a tour that was well-suited to my interests: The Beijing Target Shooting & Great Wall Day Tour. A full day of history and firearms. How brilliant is that? Now, some people might scoff at my choice of visiting a shooting range in China when we have multitudes of them in the U.S., but as you will see, this is not your typical shooting range.
My guide and driver picked me up from my hotel on a chilly and damp morning in September. Since my flight had only just arrived in Beijing the prior afternoon, I was still a bit jet-lagged and groggy, which is the ideal condition when handling firearms or attempting a very steep hike. My guide, however, was very talkative and prevented me from drifting off to sleep as we sat in the infamous Beijing traffic.
“So,” I asked her, “do you often take tourists to the shooting range?”
“Yes,” she replied “but they are usually men.”
I soon realized that I was probably the first solo female that she had taken out to the shooting range, because she seemed totally puzzled as to why I would want to go there.
“Lindsay, do you shoot guns in the U.S.?”
“Yeah, I shoot a few times a month.”
“Do many girls shoot guns in the U.S.?”
“Sure. I know a lot of girls that like to shoot.”
“Do you have guns in your home?”
Each answer was met with a look of bewilderment. China has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. Private ownership is banned, and the few public shooting ranges are prohibitively expensive for the average Chinese citizen. The idea of owning a firearm and taking it out to the range on a beautiful weekend day to shoot targets with friends is something that is completely alien to my guide and driver.
We finally arrived at the “Small Arms Mobilization Center”, a decrepit military facility an hour’s drive from Beijing, and after a rail-thin soldier in crisp military attire performed a quick ID check, we proceeded onward to the shooting range.
The People’s Liberation Army welcomes you!
Mao loves guns
One of the range employees led me into a room lined with glass display cases full of rifles and handguns. In the center of the room was a display of various machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and mortars. She followed me as I walked around the room, noting my weapons preferences on a sheet of paper.
“I’ll take 30 rounds on this…and 30 rounds on this.”
I felt like a kid in a candy store.
You can shoot any of these. Some can be rather expensive.
After choosing my sample of firearms, we hopped in an old army jeep and headed out to the firing line. Unfortunately, cameras were prohibited out there so I was unable to take any photos of the range or myself handling the firearms. Disappointing, yes, but I’m not one to argue with Chinese army policy.
Surprisingly, I was the only foreigner there. I thought there would at least be a handful of us, but the only other customers were some wealthy Chinese tourists. They entertained themselves with shooting trap and handguns; I had the entire rifle section to myself. I thought it was a bit odd. Why limit yourself to the dainty little pistols when you have so many powerful firearms to choose from?
The range staff consisted of young guys dressed in olive drab fatigues. Bizarrely, their uniforms had an American flag patch sewn on the shoulder. They handed me eye/ear protection, loaded each firearm, placed it on the table in front of me, and provided a running commentary on my shooting skills. “Too high. Good. Good.” I shot an AK-47, Type 81 light machine gun, and the QBZ-95. The QBZ-95 was an interesting gun. It’s the standard assault rifle for the People’s Liberation Army, and was incredibly light with very little recoil. My favorite, however, was the light machine gun. The 30 rounds in the magazine went quickly, and when I turned around I was surprised to see 20 Chinese tourists standing behind me. Apparently they found a Yankee girl blasting away with a Chinese machine gun to be quite amusing. Glad I could provide them with some entertainment.
As I was leaving, one of the staff members lifted up a corner of a tarp covering a large, bulky object.
”Do you want to try the tank?”
As exciting as that sounded, it would set me back over a hundred bucks.
”Maybe next time, dude.”
My accuracy with the AK-47 needs a bit of work.