The price of pork, a staple meat for millions of Chinese, soared 63.4 per cent.

 

Officials have blamed the steep rises on China's worst winter weather in half a century, which hit food crops hard and cut supply routes.

 

By contrast, non-food prices increased by a mere 1.6 per cent in February from a year earlier.

 

Target

 

In an unusual comment on its own data, the statistics bureau called for a calm reaction which followed a rise in the consumer price index of 7.1 per cent in January.

 

"We must remain cool-headed, assess the situation correctly and adopt efficient measures in order to conscientiously keep the overall price level from rising too fast," it said.

 

In an address to parliament last week, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, said the government's inflation target for 2008 was 4.8 per cent.

 

"The current price hikes and increasing inflationary pressures are the biggest concern of the people," Wen said.

 

For China's communist rulers, inflation is of particular concern because it threatens to lead to social unrest and fuel anger at the government, as was the case in the lead-up to the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.