Hamilton - already carrying a five-place grid penalty thanks to an unscheduled gearbox change - failed to complete a timed lap after problems with the MGU-H element of his Energy Recovery System (ERS) in the opening Q1 phase, which was topped by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The world champion, who races at the stewards' descretion and may yet take a new power unit, was philosophical about his misfortune afterwards, commenting: “These things are sent to try us.
"No-one wants it easy - at least I know I don't. We might be in the mud right now - but we'll dig our way out.
“I'm sure the guys are just as gutted as I am - but what will be, will be. We win and lose together, so we'll work hard to figure out what happened and try to make sure it doesn't happen again.
“The positive news is that you can overtake here and the car is quick, so hopefully we can get it fixed for tomorrow and have a good race. I've been in this position before. I came from the back of the grid to the podium in Hungary two years ago, so anything is possible.”
Mercedes’ executive director (technical) Paddy Lowe added: “It's a shame for Lewis and we apologise to him for setting his weekend back.
“We still remain hopeful of getting both cars on to the podium, so that’s the target.”
Hamilton arrived in China 17 points adrift of team mate - and Shanghai polesitter - Nico Rosberg in the battle for the drivers’ title.