Rainstorms are expected to continue to hinder rescue efforts over the coming days.
About 12,000 homes collapsed when the quake struck on Sunday afternoon in Ludian county, around 230 miles north-east of Yunnan province’s capital, Kunming, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Rescuers digging in the debris by hand freed a five-year-old boy whose legs were injured, Xinhua reported.
It also said firefighters rescued 32 people who had been trapped but had retrieved the bodies of 43 residents.
Drenched survivors were sitting along muddy roads in the rain waiting for food and medication, Xinhua reported. Doctors were reporting severe shortages of medicine and an inability to perform operations on the severely injured, while rescuers said their work had been hampered by continuous downpours and quake-triggered landslides.
Ma Yaoqi, an 18-year-old volunteer in the quake zone, said that at least half of the buildings had collapsed on the road from the city centre of Zhaotong to the hardest-hit town of Longtou. The rest of the buildings were damaged.
“I saw dead bodies being wrapped in quilts and carried away,” said Ms Ma, who arrived with 20 other volunteers on Monday.
“Some were wrapped with small quilts. Those must be kids.”
Overhead footage of the quake showed older houses flattened but newer multi-storey buildings still standing.
The 6.1 magnitude quake struck at a depth of six miles, according to the US Geological Survey. Chinese officials put the magnitude at 6.5. Dozens of trucks carrying paramilitary troops with banners declaring “help is on the way” travelled to the area.