It was an important moment in U.S.-China relations. One of Hong Kong's leading pro-Peking newspapers, The Wen Wei Po, rushed the story onto its front page:

"Just arrived in Peking is John Dalton, governor of the American state of Georgia."

Few who have met the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in his determined and well-organized 17-day blitz of the Far East, would make that mistake again. Dalton has brought mountains of material on the potential of Virginia products and Virginia industrial opportunities to Japan and Hong kong, and today he climaxed the trip with an unusual two-hour meeting in Peking's Great Hall of the People.

Listening to the governor's detailed sales talk was Yu Qiuli, China's chief economic planner and a member of the ruling politiburo of the Chinese Communist Party. Yu is not the sort of man with whom a true son of the Virginia Republican Party like Dalton would be expected to find much in common, but the governor saw it as two planners interested in trade and agriculture discussing how they might help each other.

"We talked about the agricultural commodities that Virginia is in a position to export, the coal we produce in Virginia and we talked about power operations in Virginia and what is going to happen in China in the years to come and what they are going to be needing in assistance," Dalton said in a telephone interview from his Peking hotel.

Dalton has traveled abroad only once before as governor, to Europe last year, but he has evidently prepared for this trip as if it were a campaign swing through Tidewater Virginia. Without being asked, he carefully spelled for the benefit of a reporter the name of each Chinese official he had met. He used the complicated new Pinyin spelling system and pronounced the names correctly.

At a commune yesterday, he also had a chance to recall his days as a Virginia cattleman and swap tips with commune director Yu Suiho, who was dressed in the usual Mao suit and cap. The governor eyed a vat of kernelless corn-fodder in the commune cow barns. "We let the feed corn grow until it begins to harden," he said. His host confessed the Chinese peasants had to cut the corn before kernels grew because they needed the land for other crops.

Dalton is only the second U.S. governor to visit China since the normalization of relations between Peking and Washington Jan. 1, Jay Hammond of Alaska came earlier in the year, and Ohio Gov. John Rhodes is expected to follow. President Carter, Dalton said, encouraged governors at a recent conference to visit China once during their terms in order to stimulate trade and improve relations.

"We decided about four months ago that we were going to go the Far East," Dalton said. He had told Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping of his interest in visiting China, when Den dined with several state governors in Atlanta during his U.S. visit earlier in the year. After another chat with Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin, the trip was on.

Dalton emphasized repeatedly the trip would do much good for the state. He noted he called Richmond every morning to check on state business. During a week in Japan "we visited a number of companies that are doing business in Virginia, but do not have manufacturing facilities in the United States, and might be inclined to set up in Virginia," he said.

He spent three days in Hong Kong over a weekend on the way to China, and asked a U.S. Consulate official a series of detailed questions about the 40,000 boat-borne refugees from Vietnam that have gathered here. "He said that's what people would ask him about when he got home," the official said.

Dalton arrived in Peking and climbed the Great Wall. "I went all the way to the top, though you have to stop every now and then to catch your breath," he said. Then he plunged into a series of meetings with Chinese officials dealing with foreign trade, petroleum and economic planning.

China is the world's major tobacco producer. Some Virginia dealers have even traded in Peking's product, but Dalton said he thought the Chinese might be interested in importing Virginia tobacco, as well as soybeans, corn and other crops. He said he encouraged the Chinese in their talks with officials of Richmond-based Reynolds Aluminum, which could assist Peking in refining its bauxite ore.

Like any governor caught in an American energy crisis, Dalton was keep to draw the Chineses out on the future of their growing petroleum industry. "We hope China will look with favor on selling its excess oil" on the American market, he said. The Chinese seemed to indicate they did not know how much they would have to sell after meeting their own needs, he said.

Dalton brought with him a group of state officials and businessmen expert on Virginia's industry, agriculture and ports, including J. Frank Alspaugh, director of the State Division of industrial development, George A. Heitz, general manager of the Rockingham Poultry Marketing Co-op and John W. Gayk, member of the Virginia Port Authority Board, according to a list released by Dalton's office.

Senior Executive Assistant Larry E. Murphy accompanied the governor and the governor's wife, Eddie, who went out shopping today. Dalton leaves Peking on Thursday and reaches Richmond on Friday after a day and a night in San Francisco. "I know my desk is going to be two feet high with work," he said, "So I'll probably be going through the pile Saturday and Sunday." CAPTION: Picture 1, Virginia Gov. John Dalton on Peking Hotel Balcony. UPI; Picture 2, Yu Shi Ho, explains commune to Dalton, center, and members of his delegation.