The quake hit near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland with a population of 26 million.
That makes it one of China’s more lightly populated provinces, although the Dingxi area has a greater concentration of farms and towns with a total population of about 2.7 million.
Residents described shaking windows and swinging lights but only minor damage and little panic.
Shaking was felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 110 miles north, and as far away as Xi’an, 250 miles to the east.
“You could see the chandeliers wobble and the windows vibrating and making noise, but there aren’t any cracks in the walls,” said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County, about 25 miles from the epicenter.
“Shop assistants all poured out onto the streets when the shaking began,” said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County seat about 25 miles from the epicentre.”
The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The centre said it struck about 12.4 miles beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 3.7 miles deep.
Dingxi is about 766 miles west of Beijing.