China's economy grew 8.1 percent in the first quarter, data showed. Economists had expected the GDP to grow by 8.4 percent. On the other hand, government officials earlier in the year said the torrid rate of expansion would slow to 7.5 percent in 2012.
The figure points to slower growth than the fourth quarter of 2011, when growth was 8.9 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Friday's figures rattled European stock markets, although markets in Asia were mostly higher.
Some investors are seeing a silver lining in the report, guessing lower-than-expected growth indicates the People's Bank of China will step in to provide a stimulus measure, which is generally done by loosening lending restrictions.
Not all of China's recent economic data is sour.
Lending rose in the first quarter, the government said.
Labor figures also point to a rise in job opportunities per worker, the Journal said.