China's official factory purchasing managers' index rose to 50.2 in October from 49.8 in September, recovering from a two-month dip into contracting territory, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.
Economists polled by Reuters this week had expected the October official PMI to rise to 50.3, confirming a trend toward recovering growth in the world's second-largest economy.
"The return of the PMI above 50 suggests economic momentum has indeed picked up. It indicates the effect of policy easing may have been stronger than the consensus expected," Zhiwei Zhang of Nomura wrote in a comment emailed to Reuters.
"We believe macro data will continue to surprise on the upside in coming months, as the government continues to ease policy through the period of leadership transition."
The once-a-decade handover of power at the top of China's ruling Communist Party is scheduled to happen later this month.
A PMI reading above 50 suggests the pace of factory activity accelerated, while a number below 50 implies it slowed.
The HSBC China flash PMI, which gathers more data from smaller, privately-held firms that have a strong export focus, last week signalled that manufacturing activity hit a three-month high in October with a reading of 49.1, again reflecting a slow but steady recovery in the economy.
The final HSBC PMI number will be published at 01:45 a.m. British time.
China's economic growth has eased for seven successive quarters, dipping to an annual expansion of 7.4 percent in Q3. Analysts polled by Reuters expect Q4 growth to accelerate to 7.7 percent year-on-year, but that would still leave 2012's full-year growth as the slowest since 1999.
(Reporting By Lucy Hornby; Editing by Nick Edwards and Alex Richardson)