Analysts polled by Reuters expected an 8.8 percent rise in Chinese exports in September from a year ago in dollar terms.
China's import and export growth accelerated in September, suggesting the world's second-biggest economy is still expanding at a healthy pace despite widespread forecasts of an eventual slowdown.
Data released by China's General Administration of Customs showed China had a US$1.07 billion trade surplus with North Korea in the first nine months of this year.
China's economic data have been showing robust growth ahead of leadership changes set to happen at the upcoming Party Congress.
Exports rose 8.1%, below forecasts of 8.8% but handily beating August's 5.5%.
The value of service imports gained 12.2 percent year on year to 2.13 trillion yuan (more than 320 billion USA dollars) in the January-August period, while exports only increased 4.4 percent to 926.69 billion yuan, resulting in a 1.2-trillion-yuan deficit, the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) said Thursday in a statement.
As result, the trade surplus totaled USD28.47 billion in September versus the expected level of USD38.0 billion.
China's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States rose to a record for a single month, according to Reuters calculations using official data going back to 2008. Imports rose 18.7 percent to $169.8 billion, an improvement from the previous month's 13.3 percent.
China's imports from North Korea fell 37.9 percent in September from a year earlier, marking the 7th consecutive month of decline, while exports dropped 6.7 percent.
Looking ahead, Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics, said he expects any further weakening of exports to remain mild given the relatively upbeat outlook for growth in China's main trading partners.