China's economy expanded last year at a rate of 7.7 percent, which beat the government's forecast but was the slowest pace in 14 years and highlighted the need to push through reforms aimed at guaranteeing stable - though less spectacular - long-term growth.

China's gross domestic product totaled 56.88 trillion yuan ($9.31 trillion) last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said Monday.

Many economists expect the world's second-largest economy to further decelerate this year as President Xi Jinping's administration takes steps to re-orient the Chinese economy away from reliance on investment and exports in favor of expanding domestic consumption.

Although China's four big state-owned banks and other financial institutions lent record sums of money after the onset of the global financial crisis to keep the Asian giant growing, the results have been discouraging and many investments are feared to have been unproductive.

Chinese authorities also are looking to more closely regulate so-called "shadow" banking services because of concerns about the growing number of loans being made by non-bank institutions.

Authorities have unveiled a series of reforms to boost consumer spending and promote more stable long-term growth.

During a plenary session in November, Communist Party leaders decided to open the financial system to private enterprise and reduce state monopolies in some sectors, including energy and rail service.

Though still in a preliminary phase, these measures are crucial to transforming China's economic model since facilitating medium-sized enterprises' access to credit and fostering a bigger-spending middle class are among the country's most pressing needs. EFE