China's exports unexpectedly fell 6.4% in April from a year earlier, while imports tumbled by a deeper-than-forecast 16.2%.
This fuelled expectations that Beijing will quickly roll out more stimulus to avert a sharper economic slowdown.
April imports tumbled 16.2% from a year earlier, following a 12.7% drop in March that highlighted tepid domestic demand as the world's second-largest economy slows.
That left the country with a trade surplus of $34.13 billion for the month, the General Administration of Customs said today.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected exports to rise 2.4% in April from a year earlier, and predicted imports would fall 12%.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang was quoted by Xinhua state news agency as saying last month that authorities must arrest China's export slowdown lest it further dampen economic growth.
China's central bank has lowered interest rates and banks' reserve requirement ratio three times since November in a bid to stoke the economy, and most analysts had already expected it to loosen policy again on both fronts in coming months.
Buffeted by lukewarm foreign and domestic demand, China's trade sector has wobbled in the past year, adding to pressure on the slowing economy and unsettling policymakers.
Earlier this week, China's trade minister said the devaluation of currencies by some countries has led to sharp gains in the yuan, hurting the competitiveness of Chinese exports.
The yuan has gained against major non-dollar currencies in recent months, leading to its rise on a trade-weight basis.
But Premier Li Keqiang has ruled out a devaluation, even as the economy faces headwinds.
While some exporters said they have not felt the impact of a rising yuan, thanks partly to the growing popularity of currency hedging options, few doubt that sales would suffer incoming months if the yuan sustains its ascent.
China's trade grew 3.4% in 2014, missing the government's growth target of 7.5% by more than half. The government has lowered its growth target for 2015, with combined imports and exports expect to rise by around 6%.