China's economy grew at its slowest pace in at least a decade, in the first quarter of 2009.  However,  Chinese authorities point to stronger industrial activity in March as one sign the slump may be bottoming out.

The world's third-largest economy grew by 6.1 percent in the first three months of this year, compared to the same period last year.  This number is down from 6.8 percent the previous quarter and represents China's lowest quarterly growth rate in more than a decade.

National Bureau of Statistics spokesperson Li Xiaochao told reporters the Chinese government's stimulus measures have produced positive results and that the first quarter performance was better than expected.

However, he says there are still many reasons to be cautious about a speedy economic recovery.

Li says China's main economic difficulty brought on by the global economic crisis has been a drop in exports, which has eroded corporate profits, reduced government revenues and made it harder to create jobs.

He says these are the key factors contributing to pressure for an economic slowdown.

Many economists have said they believe China's economic growth actually accelerated in the first quarter of this year, as opposed to the last quarter of 2008.  This change is not readily apparent because China provides only year-on-year comparisons.

The Chinese government's $580 billion stimulus program has been boosting investment to counteract the fall in exports, which were down nearly 20 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from a year ago.

China's economy relies heavily on manufacturing, so another figure of note is industrial production, which grew by 8.3 percent in March, from the same period a year ago.  This is up sharply from a 3.8 percent gain in January and February.

China has set eight percent as its minimum economic growth target for 2009.