During a luncheon speech yesterday at the Kennedy Center, American Film Institute chairman George Stevens Jr. was trying to commiserate with the five members of a Chinese film delegation that arrived the night before about the fatigue they must have been feeling. They had left China on Wednesday their time only to touch down here late on that same Wednesday our time.

He speaks no Chinese, and no one in the delegation speaks English, so the guide was translating his words almost sentence by sentence. He seemed to be edging into a story involving his own fatigue after traveling to China earlier this year.

Then he mentioned "jet lag," and everything stopped. The translator was silent, the Chinese guests looked puzzled and finally Stevens asked Yuan Hian-lu, the Washington bureau chief for The People's Daily, "Is there any word in Chinese for jet lag?" There were quick consultations and then Hian-lu announced, "Nothing!" And Stevens gave up. "I guess I'll have to try a story about something else."

Pan Am had broken part of the trip's strain by showing "Kramer vs. Kramer" aboard the plane. And it delighted the jovial and animated Cheng Yin, who is the delegation leader and the director of the Peking Film Institute. "We liked it very much," he said. "You see, it's about the way Americans live, and that is what we care about. It is about the relationship of a father and a son, and a mother and a son. And that matters very much to us because, you see, we have families in China too, with mothers and fathers and children just like you."

The group also includes actresses Qin Yi from Shanghai and Xie Fang from Peking, whose film, "Two Stage Sisters," opened a five-film festival of Chinese works at AFI last night. It will go on for a week.

After almost a week here, the delegation continues on to other cities where their films will be shown -- New York, Chicago, Tucson/Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is in exchange for the showing of five American film classics in China last spring.

Film production in China declined, like virtually everything else, during the Cultural Revolution, but it has gone back up to 81 during the past year, according to Yin. And there is one unique distinction. China is the only place still making color film in the pure and subtle tints of Technicolor, so prized by film lovers but so rejected by the studios because of its expense.