The state-affiliated China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said Tuesday that its purchasing managers index, or PMI, rose 0.2 percentage points to 53.3 per cent in April, up from March's 53.1 and February's 51.0. A reading above 50 signifies expansion.
Economic growth slowed to 8.9 per cent in the final quarter of last year after Beijing hiked interest rates and tightened other controls to cool inflation.
Chinese leaders reversed course in December and promised more bank lending to help companies cope with the slump in global demand, but changes have been gradual.
Manufacturing tends to pick up in the spring, as construction resumes in regions affected by winter weather. But economists cautioned that the data did not suggest a full-fledged rebound in growth.
"Expect no deflationary spiral or credit crunch, but expect no grand 'V-shaped' recovery or healthy sheen either. Whilst things do look better, it is too early to break out the champagne," Alistair Thornton, an economist with IHS Global Insight, said in a comment Tuesday.
With inflation a lingering threat, policymakers are treading a fine line in trying to spur growth without adding to price pressures.
"China remains in a tough spot," it said, adding that "the recovery will be slower, more volatile and less assured than perhaps markets were hoping for."
A similar monthly survey by HSBC is due for release Wednesday, after Tuesday's May Day public holiday.Suggest a correction