Beijing: A 4.7-magnitude earthquake struck the northern Chinese city of Tangshan on Sunday, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), reviving memories of a devastating 1976 quake there that was the deadliest in modern times.

Sunday's tremor occurred at 6:38 am (2238 GMT), the USGS said, with the epicentre in a suburban residential district just outside downtown Tangshan, about 200 kilometres east of Beijing.

China's seismological authority put the magnitude at 5.1 and said it struck at a depth of 10 kilometres (6 miles).

On July 28, 1976, Tangshan, then a coal mining city of about one million people, was obliterated by a 7.8-magnitude quake and subsequent 7.1 aftershock about 15 hours later.

China says about 240,000 people were killed, although it is widely believed to have downplayed the number for political reasons.

There were no immediate reports of damage from Sunday's tremor, which also caused slight shaking in Beijing.

State-run Xinhua news agency said passenger trains through the quake area were suspended pending an inspection of rail infrastructure for any damage.

Video posted on Twitter by Chinese state media showed items toppling off store shelves in Tangshan.

"I'm still a little afraid. After all, it's a 5.1 earthquake," a receptionist at the city's Tangjiashanhe Hotel told AFP by phone.

"I was 12 years old when the Tangshan earthquake happened in 1976."