As manufacturing activity held its own, Beijing is likely to press on with a monetary tightening policy. The HSBC China purchasing managers index (PMI) was 51.8, unchanged from March, the British banking giant said.
Responses by executives to HSBC's monthly survey indicated firms were hiring at their fastest rate since December, despite only slight growth in new business and a slower expansion of their production, the bank said.
Inflation remained stubbornly high in March, with the consumer price index rising 5.4% year-on-year -- the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above the government's 2011 target of four percent.
Prices have remained high despite four interest rate hikes since October and numerous increases in the bank reserve requirement ratio, which effectively limits the amount of money banks can lend.
The soaring price of food and housing have become top public concerns, prompting Premier Wen Jiabao to pledge new efforts to contain the problem in his address to China's rubber-stamp parliament last month.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011