For a moment it wasn't quite clear who was apologizing for whom. The demonstrators had been "only a small handful who made the trouble," said the young woman -- choosing her words carefully as her companions, some less at east in English, crowded closer to listen.

"The majority of Americans are friendly -- like you," she said, referring to the 350 diplomats, congressional and administration wives, members of international exchange groups and others at Meridian House yesterday where Rosalynn Carter entertained Madame Cho Lin and wives of other visiting Chinese officials.

On the far side of the tea table heaped with French pastries, fresh fruit and bowls of raspberry-flavored whipped cream, two Chinese scholars among the 62 attending Georgetown and American Universities discussed Monday night's violence outside the White House.

"Some may have misunderstood your relations with China," Peking geophusicist J. S. Wu said of the Maoist demonstrators who had protested the visit here of Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping. "We live in China. We know the real things. The truth."

In another room of the mansion designed by the same architect responsible for the Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery of Art, the wife of the Chinese forign minister was explaining official reaction to the three-day-old visit here.

"We enjoy so much the hospitality of American people and the American government," said Madame He Liliang, who is deputy director of the department of international organizations in the foreign ministry, under her husband Huang Hua. ("We have our own director," she said dismissing his influence. "I don't need to go further.")

The Kennedy Center gala, she said, had been "wonderful -- and when the president and the vice premier went to the stage at the end, it was the culmination of the whole evening."

In a brief speech in response to one by Mrs. Carter, Madame Cho Lin said normalization of Sino-American relations "has removed the obstacles that hampered" contacts between more Chinese and American women up until now.

Lauding liberated women and their accomplishments in both countries, she noted especially that, "Our friends among the women of America supported both the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution of China in the last hundred years, and we shall long remember their dear names."

(The White House later identified the women as authors Anna Louise Strong and Nym Wales and "a woman named Smedley," who visited China often in the 1930s.)

"Doesn't she have the most wonderful smile you've ever seen?" said Rosalynn Carter of the 62-year-old Cho Lin, who hugged her gleaming crocodile handbag to her side and smiled even more broadly into the staring crowd.