The world’s third-largest economy was hit hard by the global financial crisis that led to a fall in orders for Chinese exports.
But the official who announced the figures said the economy had still done relatively well in trying times.
There has also been gloomy news from South Korea, where the economy shrank by 3.4% in the last quarter of 2008.
Meanwhile, Japan reported that its exports plummeted 35% last month – the sharpest fall on record.
At first glance, China’s figures appear to show that its economy is still doing very well. Overall growth of 9% for the year would leave most governments ecstatic.
But China recorded 13% growth in 2007, and figures announced on Thursday show economic growth slowed rapidly towards the end of 2008.
Growth in the first quarter of last year was 10.6%, but that had slowed to just 6.8% in the last three months – after the financial crisis had struck.
At a press conference to announce last year’s figures, Ma Jiantang, head of the national bureau of statistics, said: “In 2008, we saw an eventful and extraordinary year.”
He said China’s economy had been affected by a series of natural disasters, such as the earthquake in May, and by the financial crisis.
It is this last event that has hit the Chinese economy hardest – leading to less demand for Chinese products across the world -and the crisis is getting worse, said Mr Ma.
He revealed that millions of migrant workers – villagers who travel to cities to work in factories – had already lost their jobs.
He did not give an absolute figure for the number of migrants who are now jobless, but he said a survey showed about 5% had lost work.
Despite all economic difficulties, the incomes of both urban and rural households continue to climb
Ma Jiantang, head of China’s national bureau of statistics
China’s Academy of Social Sciences recently said that there were about 200 million migrant workers – meaning about 10 million migrants are now unemployed.
Independent Chinese economist Andy Xie said the number of migrant workers without jobs could rise to more than 20 million.
“A lot of factories are not going to reopen after the Chinese New Year. The workers will be told not to come back,” he said.
China worries that these unemployed people will cause an increase in social unrest if they are unable to find new jobs.
Mr Ma acknowledged that this was a problem. “[We] take this issue of migrant workers very seriously,” he said.
To reinforce the point, he reminded those listening that China’s communist leaders were improving ordinary people’s living standards.
“Despite all economic difficulties, the incomes of both urban and rural households continue to climb,” he said.