Exports rose 7.9 percent in January from a year earlier in dollar terms, the customs administration said Friday.
It was an encouraging start to the year for the world's largest trading nation even as Asia braces for a rise in United States protectionism under President Donald Trump.
The trade surplus climbed to US$51.35 billion, beating economists' estimates by more than US$2 billion.
The country exported 390,000 tonnes of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products, including primary, alloy and semi-finished aluminium products, in January, unchanged from December's 390,000 tonnes.
These figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt as annual shifts in the timing of the Chinese New Year make year-on-year trade growth highly volatile at the start of each year, said Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics.
Imports had been forecast to rise 10.0 percent, accelerating from 3.1 percent growth in December.
China's crude shipments and fuel exports hit a record in December 2016.
Similarly, a 16.7 per cent increase in imports, up from 3 per cent growth the month before, indicates domestic demand is picking up.
Chinese exporters suffered a record 119 trade remedy investigations initiated by 27 countries and regions a year ago, 36.8 percent more than 2015. In total, China imported 381 million metric tons of crude previous year, showing a 13.6 percent increase.
In yuan terms, exports surged 15.9 percent and imports by 25.2 percent annually. But the country was still a net exporter for the month.
Led by electronics, China's exports last month climbed the most in almost a year, adding to evidence that Asia's long trade recession may be bottoming out.
"The growing imports were also attributed to this year's Spring Festival, which arrived earlier than last year", said Xu Yang, an analyst at Sinolink Securities.
As both trading prices and volume of commodities were notably higher than the same period past year, China's trade surplus might narrow in the future, since domestic demand is likely to improve continuously, Xu said.