We don't yet know exactly what Hong Kong's new textbooks on national and moral education will try to teach the city's schoolchildren about the superiority of China's economic model. But I bet the line they take will run something like this: 'Over the last 30 years, China has achieved an unparalled economic revolution. 'The unique combination of Confucian values, which prize hard work and thrift, together with the wise guidance of the central government, which has steered the development of key sectors, has enabled the motherland to achieve rapid and sustainable growth over more than three decades of unmatched progress. 'The success of China's prudent economic model stands in stark contrast to the failure of the credit-fuelled free market capitalist systems that prevail in Western countries. 'While China has achieved an uninterrupted economic ascent, the free market system has plunged Western economies into the chaos of financial crisis and recession, wiping out family savings, causing mass unemployment and igniting social instability. 'Unlike the Western system, which concentrates wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of parasitic bankers and speculators, the China model shares the benefits of progress harmoniously throughout society. 'As a result, in just a few years China's unique economic model has raised more than 400 million people out of poverty, without doubt the greatest economic and social achievement in human history.' Presented like that, China's brand of economic development does indeed sound like a roaring success. But if students and teachers choose to question the preferred patriotic line, they may find China's economic model begins to look rather less impressive. First, they will discover that there is nothing unique about China's economic ascent. On the contrary, the country has followed a well-trodden path of moving underemployed peasants to urban manufacturing jobs, and of boosting productivity by adopting technologies developed elsewhere. (To say that doesn't denigrate China's native creativity. It merely makes the obvious point that it is much quicker and easier to climb a hill using steps already carved by someone else than to build your own staircase from scratch.) Then they will learn that China's growth trajectory is a lot less rapid and sustainable than the patriots like to claim. That's partly because Beijing's double-digit growth rates take no account of the environmental and health costs inflicted by China's industrialisation. Factor those in and, according to one recent study, China's average economic growth rate over the last 20 years falls from 10 per cent to just 3 per cent a year. Next, our students might begin to doubt whether China's model of benevolent state participation in the economy is really any better at avoiding the sort of financial crises that afflict free market economies. China suffered its last bad debt crisis less than 15 years ago. In response, the authorities forced ordinary depositors to bail out the banking and state sectors by keeping interest rates on deposit accounts artificially low. The solution worked after a fashion, but the government failed to learn its cautionary lesson. China's spectacular headline growth of recent years has been achieved only at the cost of a credit expansion relative to gross domestic product that dwarfs the pre-crisis credit booms in either the United States or Britain. The risk is that the bust, when it comes, will also be correspondingly greater. Finally, it is doubtful whether China's economic model is any better at distributing the gains of economic growth than the free market systems favoured in Western countries. Over recent years, China's median household incomes have fallen steeply relative to per capita gross domestic product as wealth has become more and more concentrated in the hands of a lucky few. While a third of the population still lives on less than US$2 a day, a privileged elite has become very rich indeed. According to the Shanghai-based Hurun Report, which tracks China's wealthy, the richest 70 members of the National People's Congress made US$12 billion last year, bringing their net worth to an eye-popping US$90 billion. In contrast, America's top 660 powerbrokers - the president, his cabinet, the Congress and the Supreme Court - are together worth a relatively meagre US$7.5 billion. Viewed in this light, China's economic rise, which has been characterised by artificially low interest rates and rising debt levels propelling a spectacular infrastructure and property investment boom, begins to look disturbingly similar to the economic model adopted over the last decade by Spain. And, as millions of Spaniards have discovered, rising wealth is no guarantee you won't be plunged back into poverty. Now that's a lesson far better taught in the classroom than learned the hard way in adult life.