When Mayor Marion Barry led a trade mission to the People's Republic of China last year, he was merely following in the footsteps of other state and city officials who have gone overseas in search of new markets for their local industries and businesses.

This fall, District residents will see the first tangible results of Barry's international travel: a Chinese trade show at the Washington Convention Center and the construction of an ornate $1 million Chinatown Archway to span H Street NW, just east of Seventh Street.

The mayor deserves credit for seeking new ways to boost the District's economy. His dream is to convert the city into a seat of international trade. But as he has done in the past, Barry hurt his own cause with a display of political insensitivity.

The large royal-gold archway, to be jointly financed by the District and Peking governments, will be set down in the once-flourishing Chinatown area, within sight of the Convention Center and a planned privately financed Far East Trade Center.

Barry announced the decision to go ahead with the project last week after what appeared to be at most a perfunctory consultation with Chinatown businessmen and residents and virtually no soundings outside the area.

City officials paid little heed to warnings that many Chinese-American residents who fled communist rule on mainland China years ago would be offended by any project that was sponsored or financed by Peking's government.

There also was little public discussion over whether Washington architect Alfred Liu's highly ornate archway design, resplendent with seven pagoda roofs, fierce dragons and Chinese characters, was appropriate for the area.

The mayor insisted that the archway would be a "visible symbol of the cultural and economic exchanges which will be part of our sister city agreement and part of my program to make the District a visbile world-class city."

The reaction was predictable. More than 75 Chinatown business leaders and activists protested what they termed the "communist arch" at a meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission last Friday.

Charles R. Donnenfeld, an attorney for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, a group of 21 civic groups with an interest in Chinatown, said placing the arch in Chinatown would be akin to building a monument to Fidel Castro's Cuba in the anticommunist Little Havana section of Miami.

Bosco Lee, chairman of the association and Chinatown's unofficial mayor, says his group wants to build two archways of their own over H Street -- one at Fifth Street and the other at Ninth Street, the eastern and western entrances to the faded neighborhood.

What the mayor touted as a new era of joint cooperation between the people of Washington and Peking is quickly degenerating into the Year of the Dueling Archways.

Lost in the hubbub over the archway were details of the plans for reciprocal trade shows in Washington and Peking.

The Chinese will get the ball rolling this fall with a two-week exhibition at the Convention Center, Sept. 22 through Oct. 5.

The show will include videotapes and films profiling Peking, handicrafts, carpets, replicated antiques, and posters and charts describing the opportunities for investment in Peking.

District officials will stage a show in Peking in the spring of 1986 of a slightly more prosaic nature. The city will show off the range of services that local government and private industry provide.

Peking residents will be treated to the wonders of the District's sludge-disposal and firefighting techniques. U.S. firms will show off their earth-moving equipment, telecommunications, pipe-laying equipment and portable toilets.

Speaking of artwork with political overtones . . .

The mayor gave his blessing last Saturday to placing a bronze bust of Jesse L. Jackson in the Convention Center as a permanent exhibit.

Lyndia Grant, president of Critique Career Management Services Inc., and a big fan of the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, got the mayor's support for the plan at her company's founder's day luncheon at the Shoreham Hotel.

"We just thought it would be a nice place to have it," Grant said. "We thought it was historical what he Jackson has done, whether he won or lost as a presidential candidate , and the fact he was a spokesman at the Democratic National Convention."

The life-size bust is the work of artist Retha Walden Gambaro, who volunteered her services.

Annette Samuels, the mayor's press secretary, said Barry thinks its a great idea. "It's a piece of art that has been developed by a District citizens and recognizes a person in the country who has made great contributions to it," Samuels said.