THE U.S. DEBUT of the Central Ballet of China is a landmark in East-West cultural relations and a triumph for a troupe that has weathered political and artistic storms in the People's Republic of China.

Established in 1959 as the national ballet company, the Central was much influenced by English and Russian dance. Co-founder Dai Ailian had studied in England with Anton Dolin, Marie Rambert and Margaret Craske, and the troupe received considerable guidance from Pyotr Gusev, the Soviet dancer, choreographer and teacher.

Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution put an end to all that. Foreign influences and styles were purged, leaving only Chinese themes in the repertoire. A generation of dancers found themselves barred from classical ballet.

That difficult time has now passed, and today the troupe embraces both traditional and classical forms. The troupe's Kennedy Center appearances include such works as Jaing Zuhui's "The New Year's Sacrifice," based on a short story by Lu Xun depicting the plight of women under the old feudal society; and "The Maid of the Sea," based on a folk tale in which love triumphs over evil. These Chinese-oriented dances will alternate with such classics as "Swan Lake" (Act II), the pas- de-deux from Act II of "Giselle" and more contemporary Western pieces by choreographers Anton Dolin and Ben Stevenson.

CENTRAL BALLET OF CHINA -- Friday at 8, Saturday at 7, Sunday at 1:30 and 7:30, Kennedy Center Opera House.