Allowing foreign investors to trade the futures directly is a first for China's commodity markets.
"We've seen already this morning it appears to be a liquid contract from the off", said David Martin, JPMorgan Chase & Co's Asia Pacific head of global clearing, at an event for the launch in Shanghai.
The Shanghai contract traded higher than its London and NY counterparts shortly after debuting, at 432.2 yuan (USD 68.43) per barrel for September settlement at around 0145 GMT, according to Bloomberg News.
The most actively traded futures contract, for September delivery, closed up 3.3% at 429.9 yuan ($68.07) per barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange, having cooled a bit after initially jumping 6%.
The most active contracts on the first day of trading traded at a discount of more than $1 a barrel to the benchmark Brent crude price in London. Prices assessed at the Shanghai exchange will reflect China's crude supply and demand.
The contracts might not only help wrest some control over pricing from the main worldwide benchmarks, but yuan-denominated contracts could also promote the use of its currency in global trade - a key long-term goal for Asia's biggest economy.
Shanghai Sept crude futures turnover eclipses Brent in early trade
But foreign investor response to those openings has been tepid, and while analysts say the yuan oil futures will help further internationalise China's markets and increase crude price transparency in Asia, the dollar's position as the world's petro-currency remains solid.
In a sign the contract has lured overseas interest, global commodity trader and miner Glencore, and big merchants Trafigura and Freepoint Commodities were among the first to trade, although regulatory hurdles and unfamiliar rules may stymie broader take-up in the near term.
Analysts have noted that the launch of the petro-yuan could shatter the petro-dollar's dominance of the crude oil market. Absence of a paper market could limit liquidity, as these contracts are expected to be physically settled.
The listed futures for trading are contracts to be delivered from September this year to March 2019.
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At 9:56 a.m. (0256 GMT), Shanghai prices were up 4.4 percent at 434 yuan, with 24,132 lots traded.
Chinese exchanges count each side of a trade - the buy and the sell - as two lots, meaning the total oil changing hands was 20,328 lots, equal to 20.3 million barrels. "In the long run, yuan crude price will mirror the moves of Brent", he said.