The tremor, the strongest to hit the region in 14 years, struck at 4.30 p.m. on Sunday, with its epicentre in Ludian county of southwest China's Yunnan province.
Official figures showed that about 2,401 people have been injured in the 6.5-magnitude quake, Xinhua reported.
As many as 504 people died in the worst-hit Ludian county and 72 in Qiaojia county in Zhaotong, the provincial civil affairs department said.
Nearly 80,000 houses in the areas have collapsed and 230,000 people have been evacuated.
Thousands of police personnel, fire fighters and soldiers have been deployed for rescue efforts.