Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to tackle the mainland's yawning wealth gap in a speech marking the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.
'We will make great efforts to guarantee and better the livelihoods of the people, make it a top priority to improve the living standard of the people and resolve the problems that most concern the people and that have a direct impact on their interests,' Wen said in the speech at a banquet on Friday night.
He also used his National Day speech to pledge to push ahead with economic, political, cultural and social reform to ensure the democratic rights of the people, a fair legal system and social justice.
The premier urged the public to draw inspiration from the achievements of other countries and strive to contribute to the advancement of humankind.
But he ruled out any change to the nation's philosophy of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'.
The emphasis on social justice marks a shift from Wen's previous National Day state banquet speeches, and comes amid rising social tensions as the pace of political reform fails to match the nation's rapid economic development over the last decade.
Incidents of unrest - some of them violent - have risen to unprecedented levels in recent years.
Many have been prompted by injustice, with land seizure and eviction a leading cause of public anger.
The growing wealth gap, official corruption and rising inflation have added to public disillusionment.
Wen followed up the speech with a visit yesterday to a weekend farmers' market at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The farmers' market is part of an initiative by the Ministry of Commerce and the Beijing municipal government to allow vegetable farmers' co-operatives to sell their produce directly, a model the ministry is promoting for the rest of the country.
Vegetables at the farmers' market are 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than in supermarkets, according to farmers' co-operative officials.
A People's Daily commentary yesterday to mark National Day hailed China's growing economic strength but also highlighted the challenges.
'Conflicts and problems during the social transition are growing while the international environment for China's peaceful rise remains complicated,' it said.
The first day of the National Day holiday week yesterday was marked by an official ceremony in Tiananmen Square led by President Hu Jintao . He joined senior government officials to lay flower baskets in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes.
Officials estimated land transport services handled 75.5 million passengers yesterday, a rise of 10 per cent from last year, Xinhua reported.
And the number of visitors to 119 tourist sites was up 6 per cent year-on-year to 2.29 million. About 100,000 people visited the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing , more than triple for the same day last year.
Railway authorities recorded 7.08 million passengers yesterday, up 6.9 per cent year-on-year.
The day was marred when 16 of the 34 passengers on a tourist bus from Jingzhou to Shennongjia National Nature Reserve in Hubei province died after their bus skidded off the road at about 4pm near the town of Xiakou in Xingshan county, Yichang, and plunged into a river dozens of metres below the highway. A further 17 people received emergency treatment in hospital and one was missing.