Heavy government spending and a boom in bank lending and real estate are helping to counter a slowdown that took growth in the world's second-largest economy to 6.7 percent last year, the weakest rate since 1990.
The National Bureau of Statistics' purchasing managers index showed manufacturing growth at 51.4 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 indicate an expansion. That was down only slightly from November's two-year high of 51.7.
Forecasters expect growth to weaken further this year, however, as regulators try to cool what analysts warn is a dangerously fast run-up in debt and rising housing costs. The International Monetary Fund is predicting this year's growth will slow to 6.5 percent.
The latest data show a "relatively strong start to the year," Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.
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