It wasn't the ordinary kind of press interview that Mayor Marion Barry has become accustomed to.

The reporter, representing one of the world's largest newspapers -- the Peking People's Daily, circulation 6 million -- wanted to know how D.C. police can cope with crime while riding around instead of walking, and whether the illicit narcotics trade harms blacks more than white.

And the mayor, after offering answers, wanted to know in return how successful the People's Republic of China has been in suppressing the opium trade. "That's something I'd really like to learn about," he said.

The correspondent, Zhang Yan, 57, had little to offer on that subject. He just knew, Yan told the mayor, that there are laws -- strictly enforced.

Yan is one of two correspondents sent by his government-controlled newspaper to cover the United States now that the two nations have resumed diplomatic relations. Unlike the correspondents from any other nation, he works out of an office in his country's embassy -- although, he said, he is looking for another place.

After being here just 20 days, Yan said one of the first things he has decided to do is write one or more stories about the city of Washington itself.

"The Chinese people are very interested to know about Washington," he said, in impeccably clear university-learned English. "I am trying to present a balanced, and true picture . . . I need your help."

Barry said he was most happy to oblige. One goal, he said, is for his administration to recognize fully the role of Washington as a diplomatic center, with 137 foreign lands represented.

"The people [of Washington ] are not accustomed to that kind of foresight and vision," Barry said of his own effort.

Yan said he was interested in Washington's traffic. "We have traffic problems in Peking -- we have too many bicycles," Yan told the mayor.

The police in Peking are on the streets to direct the bicycle traffic and deal with other problems.But in Washington, Yan said, they ride around in cars.

Barry let that one pass. But a few minutes later, Yan asked, "Is it true that the drug problem is more serious among the blacks?"

"Hard drugs, yes, heroin and cocaine -- marijuana is about the same, white and black," Barry replied.

With Yan taking skimpy notes in English, the interview turned to jobs, housing and racial discrimination.

Then Barry launched into a discussion of the problem of apartments being converted into condominiums and displacing tenants, and Yan looked baffled. Condominium conversion, it was apparent, is not a problem familiar to readers of the People's Daily.

Barry's meeting with Yan, following his recent 19-day tour of Africa, is part of the mayor's growing acceptance of an international role.

Soon after taking office in January, he received his first courtesy call from a foreign diplomat, the ambassador from Surinam, South America. Scarcely a week goes by that he does not meet with envoys from such countries as Canada, Israel, Greece or Lesotho. Just last week, he hosted a luncheon for the visiting president of the African nation of Guinea.

Effi Barry, the mayor's wife, also does her part in greeting foreign visitors. Yesterday she was visited by Bintou Diack, wife of the mayor of Dakar, capital of Senegal, which was one of the stops on the Barrys' African journey.