China's manufacturing activity improved marginally in March from the previous month, the government said today, but analysts said the world's second biggest economy remained weak.

The official purchasing managers index (PMI) was 50.3 in March, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement, up from 50.2 in February, which was an eight-month low.

The index tracks manufacturing activity in China's factories and workshops and is a closely watched indicator of the health of the economy. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

The market had expected PMI to remain unchanged in March at 50.2, according to a poll of economists by Dow Jones Newswires.

A preliminary estimate by British bank HSBC, which gives greater weight to smaller companies, put China's PMI at a weaker 48.1 in March.

Analysts largely expect the government to take steps to boost the economy, though most have ruled out a huge stimulus package, instead expecting moves such as a cut in the amount of funds banks must place in reserve with the central bank.

Last month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang set the nation's annual growth target at "around" 7.5%, the same level as the goal for last year.

China's economy actually grew an annual 7.7% in 2013, the same as in 2012 - which was the slowest since 1999.
Meanwhile, price rises for new homes in China slowed in March for the third month in a row, an independent survey showed, as authorities say they are looking to curb high housing costs.

The average price of a new home in 100 major cities rose 10.04% year-on-year in March to 11,002 yuan ($1,775) per square metre, according to the China Index Academy which compiled the survey.

The increase compared with a rise of 10.79% in February, according to the academy, the research unit of real estate website operator Soufun.

The number of cities where new home prices grew by more than 1% decreased, the academy said in its release, which "indicates real estate prices in most cities are steadying further".

The government has sought for more than three years to contain rising property prices, while also promising to increase the supply of affordable housing with price increases stoking discontent among ordinary citizens.

But at the same time local authorities in China make much of their income from land sales to developers.

Market control measures have included restrictions on purchases of second and third homes, higher minimum down-payments and taxes in some cities on multiple and non-locally owned homes.

Prices in March rose 0.38% from the previous month, the data showed, slowing from February's increase of 0.54%, but still marking the 22nd month-on-month gain in a row.
Beijing led the rise in new home prices among the 10 biggest Chinese cities in March, with the average cost increasing 27.13% year-on-year to 33,069 yuan per square metre, the data showed. 

Prices in the southern city of Guangzhou increased 20.48% year-on-year and those in nearby Shenzhen gained 19.02%.
In Shanghai, China's commercial capital, the average cost of a new home came to 32,339 yuan per square metre, up 14.89% from the same month a year ago.