BEIJING -- China's retail sales, the country's key gauge of consumer spending, surged 16 percent during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday despite the worst winter storms in half a century.
Consumers spent 255 billion yuan (US$34.9 billion), up from 219.8 billion yuan in the same period last year, the Ministry of Commerce reported on its website.
The growth rate compares with 16.8 percent for all of 2007 and 15 percent during last year's holiday.
The ministry attributed the surge to the country's efforts to increase market supply and stabilize prices.
China promised before the holiday it would maintain a stable market and that commodities necessary to the lives of common people would not be out of stock due to the heavy snow that blanketed much of the country.
The government released part of its meat reserves to the market and redistributed 400,000 tons of vegetables between the different regions.
It also exempted vehicles carrying fresh farm products from all road tolls and wholesale suppliers of such products from "as many charges as possible".
Such moves were made following inflation in China rising at its fastest pace in a decade last year, with the consumer price index (CPI) increasing 4.8 percent.
Major retailers in the southwest city of Chongqing saw a year-on-year increase of 35 percent in sales during the Lunar New Year holiday, while those in the snow-hit eastern province of Anhui reported a 23.9 percent rise.
Sales soared 35 percent in Guangdong where 12 million migrant workers, 40 percent of the southern province's total number, chose to stay because of blizzards in their hometowns.
High-end household appliances, digital products, jewelry and thick overcoats became hot sellers in major cities.
China has tried various measures, such as pay rises and "golden week" holidays, to increase domestic consumption which it says is too weak.
After scrapping the weeklong May Day holiday, China still has two "golden week" holidays, including the Spring Festival and the October 1National Day.
These holidays were launched in 1999 to encourage people to spend more money for the benefit of economic growth.