The China Earthquake Networks Center said the quake hit Wushu county in Aksu prefecture shortly after 2am local time, according to the state-run Xinhua press agency and about 200 rescuers were dispatched to the epicenter.
Six people are reported to have been injured and more than 120 homes have been damaged or collapsed in the freezing cold weather, according to the Associated Press news agency which is citing authorities.
Of the six people hurt, two had serious injuries and four were minor. In addition, 47 houses collapsed, 78 houses were damaged and some agricultural structures collapsed, the government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region posted on its official Weibo account.
The quake downed power lines but electricity was quickly restored, Aksu authorities reported.
State broadcaster CCTV said there were several aftershocks since the main quake, registering up to 4.5 magnitude.
The earthquake struck in a rural area populated mostly by Uyghurs, who have been the target of a state campaign of forced assimilation and mass detention in recent years.
China’s National Fire and Rescue Administration posted a video on social media showing firefighters driving to the quake’s epicentre. A video posted by a Weibo user showed residents standing outside on the streets bundled in winter jackets, and a photo posted by state broadcaster CCTV showed a cracked wall with chunks fallen off.
Tremors were felt as far away as the neighbouring countries Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In the Kazakhstan city of Almaty, people left their homes to seek refuge in the street after the quake caused walls to shake and furniture to shift.
Local TV channels in the Indian capital New Delhi reported strong tremors in the city, about 1,400km (870 miles) away.
The US Geological Survey earlier said casualties were possible, though none were immediately reported in the mountainous, rural area where the earthquake struck.
“Significant damage is likely and the disaster is potentially widespread,” its report said.
Wushu county at the quake’s epicentre is recording temperatures well below zero. Parts of northern and central China have shivered under frigid cold snaps this winter, with authorities closing schools and highways several times due to snowstorms.
Tuesday’s earthquake came the day after a landslide buried dozens of people and killed at least eight in the south-west of China.
A December quake in the north-west of the country killed 148 people and displaced thousands in Gansu province.
That earthquake was China’s deadliest since 2014, when more than 600 people were killed in southwestern Yunnan province.
In the December earthquake, subzero temperatures made the aid operation launched in response even more challenging, with survivors huddled around outdoor fires to keep warm.