FOR A SHOW that was tossed together in three weeks, the Kennedy Center's entertainment for China's Vice Premier, Teng Hsiao-ping, was not half bad. The pleasant character of the evening fit the political purpose of the vice premier's visit very well. None of the acts was risky. Nothing was memorable but the smiles and clapping. The Globetrotters were their deliberately exuberant selves. Shirley MacLaine was herself -- expressing her heartfelt thanks to Chinese communism for encouraging her to resume her dancing career. And John Denver was himself.

If our 900 million new friends back home in China wanted to see if the future works, they certainly got an accurate taste of American television, via satellite. Here was our classic, average old variety show, with all the calculated balances. We had black music, with the cast of "Eubie." We had tap and ballet (the Joffrey). We had age and dignity, in Rudolf Serkin; and youth and sweetness in the National Children's Choir, which sang, "I Love Tien-An-Men Square," the Maoist version of "Give My Regards to Broadway." Mr. Denver, we suppose, represented the West. And Miss MacLaine, individualism.

A potpourri. But a success, without doubt. And the reason for the success had less to do with the quality of the performances than with the glow of the audience. Even the playing of "Getting to Know You" couldn't damage the good feelings. It wasn't art we were parading before our honored guest; it was hospitality and friendship. The mere sight of the tiny leader brought down the house.

Teng seemed to know this. For although the show was technically put on for his benefit, he, in fact, was the show; the acts were directed toward him. After each performance the TV cameras focused on Teng to see if, or how strongly, he approved. He responded like a pro every time, laughing and clapping. And he was at his best at the end of the evening when he and President Carter took the stage together. Then, finally, we had both principals standing begore us, as at the beginning of a play.