Henan provincial and Shangqiu city authorities have gone to the scene to start an investigation. Authorities have yet to release details on the victims.

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters try to extinguish fire near Honghuaerji Town in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on May 17, 2006.
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters try to extinguish fire near Honghuaerji Town in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region on May 17, 2006. (AP)

At least 18 people have been killed and 16 injured when a fire broke out at a martial arts school in central China.

Local media reported on Friday that most of the victims were boarding pupils aged between seven and 16.

The fire had been extinguished and authorities were investigating the cause of the blaze, the statement from Zhecheng county government said.

The manager of the centre in Henan province has been arrested by police, the statement added.

There were 34 boarding students on the premises when the fire broke out, according to local government staff quoted by Beijing Toutiao News.

Four people were severely injured and 12 have light injuries, according to the short statement from authorities in the city of Shangqiu, which oversees Zhecheng county in Henan, where the fire occurred.

Safety regulations under question

Provincial party chief Lou Yangsheng told local media that the tragedy was a "profound lesson" which all cities and counties in Henan should learn from to eliminate future risks.

Henan is the birthplace of traditional Chinese martial arts, and is home to many kung fu academies.

Among the largest is the famous Shaolin Martial Arts School, which has hundreds of teachers and tens of thousands of students, according to its website.

The Shaolin Monastery in the city of Dengfeng is also famed for its fighting monks.

Social media users started to call for better fire safety standards online as a hashtag for the fire quickly garnered over 1.5 million views.

Past fatal incidents

Fatal fires are common in China, where safety regulations are widely flouted and enforcement is often lax.

More than two dozen people were killed in two blazes in Beijing's migrant neighbourhoods in 2017.

The first fire, which killed 19 people in November that year, prompted authorities to begin tearing down unsafe buildings in the capital, driving hundreds of thousands of residents out in the middle of winter.

A huge blaze that swept a 28-storey Shanghai residential block in 2010 killed 58 people.

READ MORE: Several dead in China gas line explosion

The accident comes at a sensitive time for China's ruling Communist Party as it ramps up security preparations before its 100th anniversary celebrations on July 1.

Following a spate of deadly mine accidents in the past few weeks, local authorities this month suspended operations at coal mines in Henan, Jiangxi and Hubei provinces in the run-up to the anniversary.

In one week in June alone, over 30 workers were killed in two separate gas explosions at mines in Henan and Hubei.

READ MORE: Workers trapped in China gold mine send note up to rescuers

Source: AFP