The quake hit at 4:30 pm local time (1400 IST) yesterday, at a depth of 12 kms with the epicentre in Longtoushan township, 23 kms southwest of the county seat of Ludian, Zhaotong City.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is en route to the quake region to supervise disaster relief work, a news agency said.
Over 1,591 were injured in Ludian County and the quake has also left 60 dead and 193 injured in Qiaojia County.
This is the second quake in about two years.
In September 2012, a 5.7-magnitude quake caused more than 80 deaths and injured over 800 people.
In 1974, a 7.1-magnitude quake in the same place killed more than 1,400 people.
Jiang Haikun, a research fellow with the CENC, said that aftershocks measuring 5 to 6 on the Richter scale are possible in the area, but he ruled out the possibility of stronger quakes in the epicentre.
"Yunnan is prone to moderate and strong quakes and such quakes usually occur on similar scales. We will keep a close eye over the aftershocks," Jiang said.
President Xi Jinping has ordered that authorities concerned give top priority to saving people's lives, minimize casualties and guarantee a proper settlement for quake victims.
He called for putting an all-out effort in relief operation and strengthening aftershock monitoring to prevent secondary disasters.

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