Early on in tonight's CBS Reports special "The Boston Goes to China," correspondent Ed Barley is interviewing 80-year-old Muriel Hoopes, an American whom he describes as "the oldest living foreigner in the People's Republic."

Bradley inquiries about her late husband, a Chinese-born scientist with whom she came there from Philadelphia in 1920 and how the elderly couple was treated during the Cultural Revolution. "What happened?" he asks.

"Well, my husband was in for 4 1/2 years, not in jail-isolation, they call it."

Taken aback, Bradley continues, "Did you see him?"

"I saw him twice during that time," replies the amazingly cheery Mrs. Hoopes. "But the last two years I didn't even know where he was, I thought he was dead or something, but after awhile he came out and, uh, I was in nine months myself. Nine months.

"What happened to you during those nine months?" asks Bardley.

"Well, I just sat there, still wondering what it was all about," answers Mrs. Hoopes.

It is with this resigned puzzlement that many of the Chinese intelligent-sia recall to Westerners the staggering events of their history.

And it is in interviews with the survivors of the Gang of Four that this documentary (on Channel 9 at 10 o'clock) probes the deepest. Someone at CBS is to be congratulated for realizing the potential human impact of the Boston Symphoyny visit, with its one-on-one interchanges between some of America's most distinguished musicians and two generations of Chinese playres, most of whom had not even been allowed to practice until the last year or two.

There is, for example, the interview with the Peking Philharmonic's concertmaster, Yang Bingsun, who a year and a half ago was a prisoner in Shen Shing province and had not played his instrument for almost 10 years. The reason, as Bradley gives it, is that "he preferred Beethoven to the Yellow River Concerto," a propagandistic vehicle that the Gang had written by committee.

"What made you counterrevolutionary?" Bradley asks.

"We are talking about Madame Mao. We didn't like her," he replies.

This is not the kind of footage journalists get in China when covering carefully choreographed presidential visits. And on the whole it is more a program about China than about a touring orchestra. The Boston players and conductor Seiji Ozawa did not go there just to display their virtousity. They went to hold master classes and give joint performances with Chinese players thirsting to observe their skills and seek their guidance in building Chinese institutions.

As American Ambassador Leonard Woodcock is quoted as saying, "the tour had advanced relations between China and the United States 20 years." . . . Far more than the politicians," he added.