A group of unknown knife-wielding men attacked the Kunming Railway Station in the capital city of southwestern China's Yunnan province at around 9 pm (local time), causing death and injuries, city police said without providing the identity of the attackers.
"It was an organised, premeditated violent terrorist attack," state-run Xinhua news agency reported confirming that 27 people were killed and 109 injured in the incident which is the biggest terrorist attack outside the restive northwestern Xinjiang province.
The agency reported that several suspects have been "controlled", while police are still investigating people in the station. Local television station K6 said police shot dead a number of the perpetrators at the train station. Fire fighters and medical workers have arrived on the scene, and injured people have been rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.
The arterial road of the station has been cordoned off, the Xinhua report said. A dozen bodies were seen at the hospital. As of midnight more than 60 victims in the attack have been sent to hospital, emergency registration records showed, the report said.
Yang Haifei, a local resident of Yunnan who was attacked and sustained injuries on his chest and back, said he saw a group of people rush into the station with black uniforms and start attacking others as he was buying his ticket.
"I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone," he said, adding that people who were slower were severely injured.
"They just fell on the ground," he said. Kunming Railway Station, located in the southeast of the city, is one of the largest stations in southwest China.
At the guard pavilion in front of the station, three victims were crying. One of them, a woman named Yang Ziqing told Xinhua that they were waiting in the station square for a train to Shanghai, but had to escape when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them.
"My two town-fellows' husbands have been rushed to hospital, but I can't find my husband, and his phone went unanswered," Yang sobbed.
Pictures on Weibo showed local police patrolling the station with bodies in blood lying on the ground. Doctors were transporting the injured to a local hospital.
Another post on Weibo by a passenger present at the station said she was dining in a nearby restaurant when the attack took place. She said she was "scared to death," seeing a group of men in black with two long knives chasing people.
State-run CCTV said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have directed a top security official to visit Kunming city to investigate the attack.
According to the Kunming railway bureau, train departures have not been affected. The attack comes ahead of the meeting of the Chinese parliament next week.
The origin of the attackers is not yet known or whether they hailed from Xinjiang where China says the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al-Qaeda-linked group is stirring up a separatist movement among ethnic Muslim Uyghurs.
Several such attacks have taken place in Xinjiang in recent months as the remote province has been witnessing ethnic unrest between the native Muslim Uyghurs and Han Chinese from the mainland for the past few years.
Three people were killed in an attack by the ETIM at the iconic Tiananmen Square in Beijing last year, when a car crashed into a crowd of tourists.
China in the recent past has also witnessed stray knife attacks by disgruntled elements as well as attempts by frustrated individuals to set fire to passenger buses to vent their anger over a host of social issues. Observers say such an attack on a crowded railway station points to an organised group.