Betty Bao Lord, author of the best-selling historical novel "Spring Moon," which is set in China, charged yesterday that a major Taiwan publisher has produced a distorted and unauthorized version of her book, probably for propaganda purposes.

Reached at her New York City home, the Shanghai-born author said yesterday that she was not surprised to discover an unauthorized version of the book appearing in Taiwan because that country is not a party to the International Copyright Convention.

"But I was hurt and shocked when I read it and saw how much they changed it," said Lord, whose book reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list this week. "What I think is that they didn't like my interpretation of history and put words in my mouth that weren't there . . . I can only think they plan to use it for propaganda purposes."

Lord said that Crown Publishers of Taiwan actually rewrote chapters. She said they dropped the italicized introductions to the chapters, which gave the book historical perspective.

A statement put out by Avon Books, which owns the $500,000 paperback rights, said that Crown also deleted all references to the Long March of 1934-35, when the Communists saved themselves from annihilation by the Nationalists, who were later forced to flee to Taiwan.

"It was totally unnecessary," said Lord. "If anyone read the book, they know I am not trying to settle any political questions. The book has nothing to do with with politics."

The epic novel chronicles the major changes in 20th-century China through an account of the life of Spring Moon, a woman born to a noble family before the turn of the century.

The Avon Books statement said that in the Chinese-language translation published by Crown, the story of a major character who joins the Communist Party was altered in a manner that makes the book nonsensical.

In an effort to find out who authorized the offending version of the book, Lord sent a telegram to an official at the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party.

"This is a flagrant assault upon my artistic integrity and my personal reputation," the telegram said.

"I gave them every chance to settle this before I went public," said Lord.

Lord received a reply three months later through Harper & Row, the hardback publisher of "Spring Moon."

In the reply, which Lord says makes no sense and never addresses her grievance, Crown Publishing Assistant K.W. Miao cites as an excuse that his firm had to rush to press because two other Chinese-language versions of "Spring Moon" had appeared in Taiwan.