After China reported quarterly economic growth of 7.7 percent this week — far above anemic U.S. and European performance — global markets reacted by falling, wiping billions of dollars off stock prices.

The reason? Growth came in under the 8 percent expected by forecasters who relied on Chinese trade and other data.

The market plunge highlighted complaints about the possible inaccuracy of Beijing's official data and the intense, possibly excessive importance traders attach to a handful of indicators.

Beijing's problems stem in part from the fact that while China is now the world's second-largest economy, it is growing and changing much faster than any rich country.

An understaffed bureaucracy inherited from the era of central planning is struggling to keep up with changes in trade, finance, manufacturing and city growth.