THE POLISHED PHOTOS in "China Today: A Self-Portrait" are images glimpsed from a passing train -- a few beautiful vignettes captured through a window on a vast country.
On display at the Museum of Natural History, these 60 photographs were taken by members of the Chinese Photographers Association. The views are intimate, and often as lovely as Chinese scrolls.
"Sailing on the Lijiang" lures us under red sails past craggy outcroppings along the river to misty peaks. Or we fly high with geese over the Great Wall. Or don a blue jacket and join a people's street parade in a suburb of Beijing.
"Morning of an Oil Refinery" takes a subject suitable for an annual report and makes it lovely: Autumn grasses caress the rosy- fingered dawn as wisps of smoke rise into the sky.
And all the people we see along the way. In "Beaming With Joy," smiling children peek through a shop window at the photographer. The images of these exquisite gamins compete with the elaborately decorated window, a stained-glass brick design of red, yellow and green.
Over her flowered parasol, "A Girl of the Dai Nationality" looks out with soft brown eyes. In a black-and-white photo, an eagle perches on the gloved hand of its owner, who is fearsome with rifle and Mongolian fur hat.
The dizzying effect of "Spring Swallow" confirms that trick photography isn't confined to the West: A gymnast does a split mid-air, over a yellow and green field -- her motion is frozen, but the field moves in a dizzying sunburst around her.
And there are some intimate views that a visitor from the West is not likely to see.
In a small kitchen, "Morning Light" shines, yellow-white from the window and red from the fire. A scarf obscures the mother's face, as she works to prepare quantities of appetizing dishes. Above her, a shelf of sauces and stacked bowls. On the table beside her, uncut bok choy. Slabs of animal fat hang over the smoke that rises from the stove. Straw is heaped in the corner. On the other side of the stove, a girl stares sleepily into the fire.
The subjects are oblivious -- so much so that they may be relatives of the photographer -- and we hope they don't sense our intrusion. CHINA TODAY: A SELF-PORTRAIT -- At the Museum of Natural History through January 6, 1985.