Norinco vs Poly…Some say the Poly Technologies are the better of the 2. This is not a black and white answer. Poly was imported most famously by KFS, Kengs Firearms Specialty , Atlanta , GA. The Kengs had a very good relationship with China and were able to procure certain rifles to be imported in the USA. Possibly the most famous Chinese AKs,The Legend Series, were imported by Kengs and are Poly rifles. The Legends seem to have a very high level of fit and finish, with the surfaces highly polished and very nice bluing etc. Norinco also made a number of Preban AKs (pre 89 true prebans). These include the famous 56s, 56s-1 and many others. These are very good guns as well. Sturdy construction and most of the time, a high level of fit and finish.
Regarding the Bakelite side folders, which are a very desired, rare, and valuable Chinese variant. The Poly which is named AKS 762, is a very nice gun, and is mostly accurate compared to the Military rife. The Norinco version, which is called the 56s-2, is actually a more accurate representative of the true military model. I’m talking small feature such as the shape and size of the selector stop, details on the FSB, and other minor details. My point is, that it is not an accurate blanket statement to say that the Poly Tech is better than Norinco. (nor is it necessarily most desired by true collectors)
I think that Norinco gets the “cheaper” or “worse” mis-characterization because they continued to import AKs post ban. Therefore, the MAK 90 rifles, that are cheaper, and lack many features, seem to cloud peoples views. The dumbed down Sporter AKs were not because Norinco cheaped out, but because of the 1989 ban on military style imported guns. During this time, as demand increased and production sky rocketed, there were “some” observed QC issues. That is not to say the MAK 90 is a bad gun. I own several and they are great guns. I also own the above mentioned Legend and Bakelite side folder, 56s, and various MAK 90s. I base my decision on different factors between Poly Tech and Norinco.
Some of the time I prefer a Poly, sometimes I prefer a Norinco. I do like both equally when I look at the big picture.
Another interesting fact is that the early import Chinese AKs were not branded as Norinco or Polytech. Just simply by model and “Made in China”. I have several examples of these very early imports too. For example my RAI, Woodland Hills import, double folder ( under folder with folding spike bayonet) This is a so called movie gun. The movie industry was among the first to buy Chinese AK imports for film use.
With all that said, there have been issues cited with Norincos and Poly Techs over the years. None of these guns are always bullet proof, or “the best”. With that said, Chinese AKs are generally well built and I’m a big sucker for their bluing. They can be quite the lookers. If I had to chose, I would generally say the Norincos might be a little better as far as durability. But as I mentioned earlier, Poly Tech had interesting offerings that Norinco never sold. So I like them equally, (although on a case by case basis) as a simple answer.
This is a complicated subject. I’m afraid I have bored most of you, but I have a lot more to share on Chinese and other countries variants if anyone want to discuss further.