The White House says Tuesday's arrival ceremony and state dinner for President Li Xiannian of China will be "somewhat abbreviated" because of President Reagan's recent surgery, but that plans call for the president to preside at both.

"The president wants to be involved in the Chinese visit because he feels it is so important," James Rosebush, Nancy Reagan's chief of staff, said yesterday.

As she always does where her husband's health is concerned, Mrs. Reagan is playing a major role in the development of his work and social schedule. This time she is seeing to it that he does not overdo his first public appearances since he was hospitalized a week ago.

As it now stands, Reagan will greet Li and his wife, Lin Jia Mei, on the South Lawn of the White House in the morning, but instead of walking to the Oval Office to confer afterwards, the two leaders will meet in the Blue Room.

That night, Reagan will skip the traditional state dinner receiving line, leaving Mrs. Reagan, Li and Lin to greet the 120 guests, among whom are expected to be actress Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham.

Reagan will join everybody later at dinner and exchange toasts with Li. Afterward, forgoing the entertainment by opera singer Grace Bumbry and the "mix and mingle" over after-dinner coffee, he will return to the family quarters.

Rosebush said that because it is difficult for Li, who is 76, to walk for any distance or to go up and down stairs, the Chinese had requested a "scaled down" dinner some weeks ago.

"So we had scaled down the walking part of it all anyway," Rosebush said.

Yesterday, Mrs. Reagan did what Rosebush described as "a show and tell" for Reagan when she visited him at Bethesda Naval Hospital. She took along the giant get-well card from the USS America crew and showed him the flight jacket, cap and other gifts given her during her tour of the aircraft carrier Wednesday.

She later told aides that Reagan had taken a bath, washed his hair and was walking about. She did not say when she expected the hospital to send him home.

"Being a doctor's daughter," Rosebush said, "she never says a specific time."