Not since China faced international sanctions over the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre has its economy grown at such a slow pace: just below 7 percent last year. Investors had expected the results, and now they're looking to Chinese policymakers to enact a stimulus plan.

China's growth dipped to 6.8 percent in the last quarter of 2015, dragging down annual growth to 6.9 percent.

The prospect of new support from the central bank led shares in both the Shanghai and Shenzhen composite indexes to rise by more than 3 percent Tuesday.

China's gross domestic product was 67.67 trillion yuan — nearly $10.3 trillion — in 2015, reports the Xinhua state news agency, which adds that for the first time, the service sector accounted for more than half of the GDP, at 50.5 percent.

Annual growth of 6.9 percent would be welcomed by many nations — but in China's case, it's seen as another sign that the world's second-largest economy is struggling to cope with debt levels at the same time that it's looking for new growth.

From Shanghai, NPR's Frank Langfitt reports for our Newscast unit:

"The old traditional drivers of China's growth, such as manufacturing and housing, are struggling as the country tries to transition to a more service sector and consumer-driven economy."The country's usually sure-handed technocrats have stumbled in the past six months as their efforts to manage China's stock markets and currency have rattled markets around the globe."

From Beijing, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports that China's statistics bureau says the economy is restructuring away from industry and toward services.

For now, Anthony says, "The result is a mixed bag of figures. Housing starts, energy generation and exports are in negative territory. But retail sales, e-commerce and wages are all showing brisk growth."

Xinhua quotes National Bureau of Statistics chief Wang Baoan saying that China now "faces a daunting task in deepening reforms on all fronts."

On a national level, the NBS report says that per capita disposable income grew at nearly 9 percent, to 21,966 yuan — around $3,341, at today's exchange rate. That represents a gain of 7.4 percent after accounting for price changes, the agency says.

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