IT IS WONDERFUL what a few years will do to improve a fellow's smile.

Just yesterday I was browsing through a back issue of Life (July 19, 1963) and lo, there was a two-page photograph of Teng. Life was excited beyond measure at Teng's visit to Moscow (which then as now he blamed for almost everything) and in the best Life fashion began:

"... With a vupline smile, the little Chinese tough man arrived in Moscow... The Chinese ideological argument is that only war can spread communism over the globe... They go on to attack Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev for being pacifist and opportunist with the West..."

Teng, now vice premier of China and the effective ruler of the country, smiled a lot during his Washington visit this week.

What happened to the "vulpine smile" of 1963?

It is possible, of course, for a great dignitary to visit this capital and be seen, lavishly attended by the press, at every monument within 30 miles, and yet nobody have the foggiest idea what the visitor thinks.

Listening to him at the National Gallery, I wondered vaguely about his sentence that "if" both sides keep their commitment, etc., which hinted at possibly breaking it. Also what about that Chinese hope of "delaying" war. Why not "avoiding" or "preventing" it?

I asked a knowledgeable man in the field, and he said it was hardly a translator's error, since it appeared in the printed version of the talk.

Another thing you could not help noticing was that Teng's "tour" of the National Gallery was no such thing. All he did was walk in, attend a brief meeting of people interested in China, and make a speech calling the Soviets warmongers, and saying anybody working for detente with Russia is an ostrich with his head in the sand.

Then, having got what mileage he could from the prestige of the National Gallery site, he marched out and that was that.

It's the National Gallery's business, not mine, if the gallery is to be used as a free hall for partisan politicos, but you might think visting firebrands could at least pretend to look at a picture.

As far as any man on the street can tell, the point was to sound off on the Russians from America, rather that just sounding off against them from Peking.

The Lord knows I understand nothing of foreign policy -- indeed, am qualified for a high position -- and have nothing whatever to say on the matter, whether or not it was prudent to allow, American to be used for this Chinese purpose.

But what does baffle people, I am sure, is whether the American government intended our shores and the National Gallery, etc., to be used for the anti-Soviet blasts, or whether our government merely went along willy-nilly. Or, perhaps, not noticing.

Since we will probably never know what our own government thinks of it, we need not think of it further.

But you do sort fo wonder what happened to the "vulpine smile." Of all the umpteen words describing Teng, and his omnipresent (and rather pleasent, I thought) smile, I cannot find any account that calls it crafty, bestial, sneaky, tricky, dicky vulpine.

May we all, as the years go by, find our smiles so much improved.

Like everyone else, I often suspect the real news of consequence is eluding us. Some guy out there is inventing a cotton gin or a cotton picker (both of them having greater impact on American society than any six presidentd) and we don't know it.

When Franklin Roosevelt asked some brain types to forecast, in the '30s, the impact of technology of that time on the nation's future, he was told some things:

The mechanical cotton picker, he was told, might well result in a staggering influx of poor Southerners to should start planning for this, and easing its effects.

Nobody did anything, of course. In due time one of the great Yankee newspapers ran an editiorial about "The Cesspool of Mississippi Education," which, it saw, was the reaosn New York's welfare rools were out of hand.

And yet even a one-eyed buzzard might suspect that an upheaval of agricultural technology and a failure of planning on a national level had a lot more to do with welfare rools than any cesspool.

But it would have been hard, probably, to sell New York newspapers in the '30s by one series of articles after another on farm machinery.

Which is what I mean about the real news eluding us.

A few ngihts ago the secretary general of the Organizaton of American States, Alejandro Orfila, had one of those magnificent dinners he and his wife, Helga, occasionally give.

He had a table at which 42 people were seated, with troppos of candles marching down the middle, and virtually every Latin American ambassador in the capital seated there. In the center was the ambassador of Japan.

The Orfilas were setting off on a good-will tour of Japan.

Somewhere along the way, I gleaned that Japanese capital controls the cut-flower industry of Argentina. And the Japanese presence in Sao Paulo (a city that few North Americans can believe is now one of the world's largest) is critical to that city. Also, the Japanese have set upa special agency for Latin American trade.

Formerly it was dealt with by an agency for North American trade.

Chomping steadily through the chestnut bombe (which only goes off later in an expanded waistline). I admired the long perspective of the ambassadors and their frequently gorgeous wives.

You might think they would wear massive gold, or maybe a lot of emeralds or amethysts or topazes, but no, what they wear is pearls and diamonds. Nothing else. There may be significance in this.

Across from me a woman in a lowcut dress of vermilion, with what I believe were vermilion bird wings announcing the decollette, seemed fit to rule the world. Some day she may, who knows?

Some day, when Japan dominates the economy of all the Americas, don't say you didn't get wind of it right here. Once they get their food processors designed os they don't break the first week, there'll be no stopping them.