The upswing in global demand has meant nine straight months of rising Chinese exports, a significant factor in the country's higher-than-expected economic growth in the first three quarters - after two years in which weak exports were a drag on growth.
China's purchases of foreign goods jumped 17.7% year-on-year in November to $177.2 billion, Customs figures showed.
In yuan terms, the surplus fell to 263.6 billion yuan, down from 285.4 billion yuan in October.
The numbers may help to ease concerns of slowing momentum in Asia's economic powerhouse, which had surprised markets with robust growth of almost 6.9 percent in the first nine months of this year, thanks to a government-led infrastructure spending spree and unexpected strength in exports.
China's imports have been growing at a double-digit pace since January.
"Steel mills have been restocking more iron ore since October as prices hit as low as $50 (a tonne)", said Yu Yang, an analyst with Shenyin & Wanguo Futures in Shanghai.
Customs is expected to release dollar-denominated trade data later on Friday. According to calculations from Reuters, that was the second-highest monthly total on record.
Completing a hat-trick of data beats, the trade surplus swelled to $40.21 billion on the back of the acceleration in exports, up from $38.17 billion in October and ahead of forecasts for a decline to $35 billion.
The data underscored the resilience of China's heavy industry, even as many steel mills, aluminum producers and other manufacturers in the world's top consumer of industrial raw materials prepared for deep production cuts as part of Beijing's blitz on winter smog.
Iron traders started stockpiling product as prices fell last month in anticipation of stronger demand after the winter months, traders and analysts said. "However, we are sceptical that the strength of imports can be sustained given that the delayed impact of policy tightening and a cooling property market are set to weigh on Chinese demand for commodities in coming quarters".