The 5.0 magnitude quake was centered about 60 miles northwest of the provincial capital of Kunming, according to the country’s national earthquake monitoring center.
The shaking struck at 12:56 p.m. local time at a relatively shallow depth of about 10 miles.
The Yunnan Provincial Seismological Bureau said a large number of rural homes were badly damaged.
The Xinhua news agency reports at least 23 people sustained minor injuries in the neighboring counties of Lufeng and Yuanmou.
Many houses were toppled by the force of the earthquake, said Zhang Jianguo, head of Yunnan's Earthquake Research Institute.
Lufeng is a world-renowned site of dinosaur bones and remains of early hominids. Xinhua says there was no damage to the heritage sites.