A fire at a southern China wholesale shopping centre has killed at least 17 people and injured nine others, officials said.

Rescue efforts took 18 hours after the fire broke out on Thursday afternoon on the fourth floor of the market in southern Guangdong province, Huidong county officials said in a statement on Friday.

A total of 270 firefighters and 45 fire engines were mobilised to extinguish the blaze, which killed 17 people, it added.

Nine managers of the shopping centre, which contains an indoor market, a cinema and restaurants, have been detained by police, said the statement.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, but state broadcaster CCTV said it started in a movie theatre on the fourth floor where decorative materials were flammable and toxic.

China, the world's second-largest economy, has a history of workplace disasters and workers are often poorly trained or ill-equipped to protect themselves from industrial accidents.

A fire at a poultry slaughterhouse in the northeastern province of Jilin in June 2013 killed 120 people. The blaze was blamed on poor management, lack of government oversight and locked or blocked exits.

Source: Agencies