The consensus forecast called for growth of 8 percent, The New York Times reported Monday.
That would have shown more stable growth following the 7.9 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2012.
"We have been expecting growth to slow down again, but not until the second half of the year," said Zhiwei Zhang, an economist for China at Japanese investment bank Nomura.
"The next couple of quarters will bring more headwinds, and growth will probably trend down even more," Zhang said.
Zhang also said "I don't envy them," referring to economic policy makers in China, who are attempting to shift the economy in China from one based on investment growth and exports to one based on domestic consumption, which will drive productivity and raise the standard of living in China, the Times reported.
"To come to grips with economic policy, we must both keep a steady footing and focus on upgrading," China's new Prime Minister Li Keqiang said on Friday.
"Since the start of the year, China's economic performance has, over all, made a steady start, and this will help to stabilize everyone's expectations. But at the same time, we must see that there are still quite a few unstable and uncertain factors in the domestic and international environment, and deep-seated problems are constantly arising," Li said.
Economist said the growth figures may have been off, because rising liquidity included debt servicing rather than new investment.
Others said the economy slowed in part because new leadership requires time to give the go-ahead for projects and to set targets for municipal governments.
In turn, corporate decision-makers hold back on commitments, while waiting for new political leaders to indicate which direction they will go, the Times said.