In a company statement Volkswagen said an electronic malfunction could cause cars to lose power while being driven.
"In isolated cases, an electronic malfunction in the control unit or a lack of oil pressure inside the gearbox mechatronics may result in a power interruption," the statement said.
Steering and braking would not be impacted, it added.
The vehicles affected include both imported models such as the Audi A3 and domestically-made ones, among them the Magotan and Passat, said the Chinese government's quality watchdog, which on Saturday had ordered the recall.
The move followed a year-long investigation, it added, and the cars involved came off the assembly line between December 2008 and early this month.
Volkswagen said it would replace components in the gearbox of affected vehicles for free.
The recall came after China Central Television alleged in an annual corporate malpractice programme that Volkswagen had used substandard gearboxes in some models, causing acceleration problems and accidents.
Volkswagen, which is Europe's biggest carmaker, said last week it planned to open seven more factories in China, the world's largest car market.
It currently has two passenger vehicle production joint ventures with China's SAIC Motor and FAW Group.
"In the coming years, we will build at least 10 new factories, seven of those in China alone," VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn told reporters last week as the company announced record net profit.