SHANGHAI, JULY 31 -- It took six years to negotiate the contract and 15 months to put the plane together, but the first American jetliner assembled by Chinese workers was delivered on schedule at ceremonies here today.

The twin-jet MD-82 was the first of a projected 25 under an agreement signed between two Chinese government-owned aviation corporations and McDonnell Douglas Corp.

The 25-plane deal is worth about $700 million, and gives the U.S. company a strong foothold in a growing Chinese aircraft market, according to Gareth C.C. Chang, president of McDonnell Douglas China.

McDonnell Douglas is competing with Boeing Co. of Seattle for a much larger order being proposed by China -- a deal to use Chinese workers to produce 150 aircraft during the 1990s. Chang said that deal would be worth about $4 billion.

As the first U.S. company to sell planes to the Chinese, Boeing has until recently dominated China's aircraft market. It has sold more than 50 planes here compared with only five sold by McDonnell Douglas before today's rollout.

Boeing has trained large numbers of Chinese aircraft technicians and buys castings and forgings in China. But McDonnell Douglas, coming from behind, now seems to have leaped ahead in the co-production business.

McDonnell Douglas' deal involves the largest transfer of technology to China by a U.S. company. Under the agreement, more than 30 Chinese engineers have been assigned to work on and study the latest jet propulsion systems being developed at the Douglas Aircraft Co. headquarters at Long Beach, Calif.

Chang said the company expects to see Chinese workers produce succeeding planes here on a faster schedule in order to lower the costs.

More than 2,000 Chinese workers have been assigned to the MD-82 program in Shanghai and the number could increase to as many as 3,000, Chang said.

McDonnell Douglas officials acknowledge that using Chinese workers to build a U.S.-designed plane turned out to be more difficult than expected. At one point, work on the first plane fell behind schedule and more engineers from Long Beach had to be sent to Shanghai.

Chang said that language problems proved to be formidable. More than 80 interpreters have been working with the U.S. engineers and 300 persons have been employed to do technical translations. Chang said that 87 million pages of technical data had to be transmitted from Long Beach to Shanghai.