HSBC's Flash Purchasing Managers Index fell to 50.5, from 51.6 in March.
A drop in new export orders was behind the decline, HSBC said.
Qu Hongbin, Chief Economist for Greater China and Co-Head of Asian Economic Research at HSBC, explained: "New export orders contracted after a temporary rebound in March suggesting external demand for China's exporters remains weak. Weaker overall demand has also started to weigh on employment in the manufacturing sector.
"Beijing is expected to respond strongly to sustain the economic recovery by increasing efforts to boost domestic investment and consumption in the coming months," he added.
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