China's economy grew 7.7 per cent in 2013, the lowest in 14 years, with tapering growth in the last quarter underlining the challenges faced by the world's second-largest economy as it grapples with rebalancing and reviving a slowing down economy.

This marks the slowest growth since 1999, when China grew 7.6 per cent. The previous decade saw record double-digit growth, with the country defying the global slowdown to grow 10.4 per cent in 2010 as it unveiled a massive $ 586 billion stimulus.

Growth slowed in the fourth quarter to 7.7 per cent, down from 7.8 per cent in the previous quarter. This brought annual growth to 7.7 per cent, down from last year's 7.8 per cent.

Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), attributed the slower growth to a “complex and severe situation” at home and abroad, as he announced last year's data.

“If you look at the first half of the year, the domestic and international situation was complex and severe, and economic recovery in developed countries was quite slow. The downward economic pressure in China was mounting”.

The Chinese leadership had announced a 7.5 per cent growth target for the year, a lower target aimed at shifting the focus from recording high growth to achieving more balanced and sustainable growth.

Monday's data showed the government had made modest progress in its goal of transforming the State-led investment model and boosting domestic consumption, services and innovation industries.

Fixed asset investment recorded 19.6 per cent growth, reaching 43.6 trillion Yuan ($7.2 trillion), marking a decline from last year's 20.6 per cent growth figure. However, retail sales grew only 13.1 per cent, reaching 23.4 trillion Yuan ($3.86 trillion), underlining the challenge posed by slowing domestic demand.

Mr. Ma of the NBS still did express optimism that the restructuring process had made headway.

“The share of the tertiary industry in China's GDP was 46.1 per cent, and this is the first time that it has surpassed the secondary industry in terms of share of GDP,” he said.

Regional imbalances between the prosperous coastal east, which has driven China's export-led growth over the past three decades, and the hinterland, had also narrowed. The share of GDP of central and western regions was 44.4 per cent, up 0.2 per cent from last year. “This shows an improved industrial and regional structure,” he said.

The urban-rural income gap had narrowed to 3.03, from a highest level of 3.33 in 2009. Energy consumption per unit of GDP was also down from last year, by 3.7 per cent, he said.