Crowns from the Ming Dynasty. Cases of Peking Beer. The ancient shares space with the modern when the East meets the West at the Chinese trade show at the Washington Convention Center.

At one booth yesterday, Wang Yonglong demonstrated a Chinese art in which small figures, usually birds and flowers, are painstakingly made from hundreds of threads of velvet. Standing in the middle of his flocks of birds were two tiny men dressed in red velvet.

"He made the two Santa Clauses especially for this exhibit," an interpreter explained. "The birds and flowers stand for happiness and longevity."

The Santa Clauses also could have stood for the hopes of most Chinese exhibitors that American entrepreneurs would find their crafts worth buying by the dozens.

The Economic and Trade Exhibition of Peking, one of the largest sponsored by Peking outside the People's Republic of China, which opened here Thursday and continues through Friday, included a two-day seminar for executives interested in doing business in China. The exposition, featuring 5,000 items in 119 categories, was arranged as part of Washington's sister city agreement with Peking, the capital of China.

Experts say there is plenty of room for growth in trade between the United States and China, and to try to cash in, American business leaders are intensifying their studies of China.

But yesterday there were few signs of the business leaders from the 130 American corporations that registered to attend the exhibit. Most of them had either left the show or were in serious negotiations behind closed doors, leaving the exhibit to the general public.

"We live on the Eastern Shore -- in hurricane town -- so we came to Washington to escape," said Carroll Haynes, as she handed a free Panda poster to her 3-year-old daughter Jessica. "I'm just pleased to have the cultural infusion." Her husband, Spencer Haynes, said he marveled at the new computers and tools he could use in his work as a "shade-tree mechanic."

"I didn't expect the high-tech stuff," he said. "I went to the Chinese export show in Canada before they could trade with the U.S. What they had there was 1950-ish stuff to me."

At one exhibit, Caeo Yue, with tools that looked like a manicuring set, fashioned small balls of dough into figures only two centimeters high, then placed them inside varnished walnut shells. Through a magnifying glass, visitors admired the details of the figures on sale for $20.

"Everyone can do it, but you must love it," Yue, 31, said through an interpreter. "You can only continue if you have steady hands -- and if you have love for it."

Next to her another Chinese craftsman, Lin Shouben, gingerly painted the inside of snuff bottles with a paint brush made of a slender bamboo stick and a single wolf's hair. Nearby, other exhibits advertised medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and photographs of a Chinese iron and steel works. The Beijing Knitwear Branch looked like a small downtown store with mannequins wearing knit suits in 1960-ish styles.

Throughout the hall, Sony television sets played videos depicting life in Peking today -- excerpts from theatrical performances, shots of historic landmarks, pictures of children in classrooms.

Guards lingered outside a makeshift museum filled with exquisite relics from the Ming and Qing dynasties: A bronze cauldron for cooking. A phoenix coronet, worn by the empress on important occasions, made from several thousand pearls and more than 100 gems of different colors.

A hand-written sign, beneath a brick from the Great Wall of China, said, "For your good luck please touch it," -- and people did. "Make my day," an elderly woman said, before giving the brick a good pat.

The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it is open from 1 to 8 p.m. Admission is $4 at the door and $2.50 for senior citizens and children under 12.