How do you get an American arts group to China these days? Invite an ambassador to dinner. That's how it worked for the Boston Ballet, slated this spring to become the first U.S. dance company to appear in mainland China since 1949.

Two years ago Mary Ellen Cabot, chairman of the board of the Boston Ballet, visited China and talked with Chinese cultural officials. Last May, she asked Ambassador Chai Zemin to dinner, and invited him to watch a Boston Ballet performance. He did, and was impressed.

In December, an invitation arrived from the Chinese Performing Arts Company and the China Niternational Travel Service for the company to tour Peking, Canton and Shanghai from May 30 to June 16 of this year.

The 36-member troupe, founded in 1964 and still directed by E. Virginia Williams (former New York City Ballet Ballerina Violette Verdy, ending her directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, will join the Boston troupe as associate director in September), is looking to raise $250,000 in private contributions to help pay its share of the tour expenses.

The China repertory will include "La Fille Male Gardee," Paul Taylor's "Aureole," and a full-length "Cinderella." Following the Chinese engagements, the company will continue its first international tour in Israel, Italy and other countries.