LOOPING DOWN from the ceiling is a dragon kite nearly 100 feet long. All about are scarlet banners and silken panels and brilliantly colored butterfly kites.
If even that doesn't say China to you, then look at the blown-up photographs of pagodas, bamboo forests, the dramatic Yangtze river, panda bears and 50 other luscious, huge, clear National Geographic-type photos.
Just the kind of pictures you would expect, because this newly opened show is at the Geographic's Explorers Hall, and it introduces a massive new project of the society, a 518-page book, "Journey Into China."
This is some book. It took 29 people (including nine writers and 10 photographers) and 35 separate trips into China over an 11-month period. It cost $4 million and covered nearly every corner of the giant country, except for a few urban areas and the upper reaches of the Yangtze which were barred to outsiders.
The pictures were culled from 1,181 rolls of film, and the chapters (in chatty, National Geographic-type travel writing) each tell of a different excursion: the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, the Yangtze, Tibet, Northeast China, the South China Coast, the Silk Road, the Deep Interior and so on. The book can be ordered from the society.
As for the show, it has few surprises. But it is pleasant to wander through. There is one truly spectacular picture: a straw-hatted peasant walks past the enormous foot of the world's largest Buddha, 231 feet high. Shot from above, it gets across the scale of the eighth-century Sichuan monument far better than any straight-on photo, of which there is one here.
Some other blowups stick in the memory: a woman all but drowning in a brilliant yellow field of rapeseed, a mysteriously deep grove of bamboo trees, the everlasting bearded old man and of course the shots of small children.
Perhaps the best part of this mini-show is a bunch of ordinary artifacts brought out by Charles O. Hyman, director of the society's book service. These include tiny, elegant combs and little pillboxes in lacquer and wood, folk art on postcards and stamps, a magnificent writing set with the white-haired brushes sculpted to perfect points and neat stands to rest them on.
Most charming of all is a group of toy animals made from thin bamboo strips, woven and varnished. They are hollow containers, and their heads or backs are the lids. There is a rabbit with big glass eyes, a kangaroo with enpouched baby, an elephant and various others. They are made with such sleek skill that it is hard to believe any parent would turn them over to the mercies of a small child.
In any case, modest or not, the show apparently has such visual magnetism that on the day before it opened a guard had to shoo away scores of visitors who tried to enter it.