Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping lunching on Capitol Hill?

It must have been mind-boggling to remnants of the once-powerful China lobby now temporarily back in business on the Hill. Not since that legendary lobby controlled the debate has there been so much tumult over China policy in Congress.

There is, first, the lawsuit by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and 14 other legislators to block cancellation of the 1954 mutual defense treaty with Taiwan; second, the surprise resolution by Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.) urging a Senate role in the termination of any mutual defense treaty; and, finally, the initiative by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) expressing "deep concern for the peace, prosperity and welfare" of Taiwan, which stops short of offering U.S. assistance in case of an attack on the issland. Obviously, not everyone with misgivings about the Sino-American bargain fits the China-lobby mold.

By most accounts, the China lobby, whose heyday began in the immediate aftermath of WORLD War II, died many years ago. Some record the event as far back as 1962, when Rep. Walter H. Judd (R-Minn.), the fiery member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one-time medical missionary to China, lost his seat in Congress.

In 1953, following the Korean War, Judd was the key congressional organizer of the Committee for (and later of ) One Million Against the Admission of Communist China to the United Nations. Included among the group's original steering committee, in addition to Judd, were Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.), recently retired chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; former representative John W. McCormack (D-Mass.), who later became House speaker, and the late Sen. H. Alexander Smith (R-N.J.), former chairman of the Senate's Far East subcommittee.

This group, which inherited the China-lobby label worn by those who had supported Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime before it fled the mainland in 1949, constituted the fundamental congressional pressure group on China policy with which Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had to deal. Legislators during all three administrations used their perquisites of office to promote committee activities, even holding steering committee meetings in congressional offices.

Not until the autumn of 1966 did the group sustain any serious loss of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Then, in quick succession, Sens. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), Paul H. Douglas (D-Ill.) and Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) resigned. Douglas' participation had prevented opponents from labeling the committee "an extremist right-wing group."

When Javits went public with his committee resignation, this prompted the group's longtime executive secretary, New York public-relations consultant Marvin Liebman, to discontinue the practice of releasing the names of congressional endorsers of annual declarations denouncing the Peking regime. Together with Judd, Liebman had kept alive the group's bipartisan congressional coalition by framing those declarations in narrowly doctrinaire and emotional rhetoric, which campaign-conscious congressmen found difficult to ignore.

Liebman, who conducted the committee's fund-raising and promotional campaigns, was in regular contact with Republic of China diplomats in New York and Washington. Although there is no known evidence that the committee received any large sums of money from Chinese government officials, there is evidence of indirect financial support for various social and travel amenities. More significant, the facts indicate that committee promotional campaigns were initiated afdter consultations between Liebman and Chinese Nationalist officials.

Perhaps most Americans would identify the China lobby's doomsday as July 15, 1971, when President Nixon, the scourge of communists everywhere, outflanked his own conservative supporters and triumphantly told the nation that he would be the first American president to visit the People's Republic of China.

The death knell for the Committee of One Million came on the night of Oct. 25, 1971, in the great hall of the General Assembly of the United Nations. During an evening of high international drama, the General Assembly settled the 16-year-old question of China's rightful represntation by approving an Albanian resolution to expel the Chinese Nationalists and to seat their bitter adversaries.

Congressional wrath over the expulsion of the Republic of China from the world organization took the form, in part, of an initiative by Sen. James L. Buckley (Con. R-N.Y.) and Sen. Peter H. Dominick (R-Colo.) to reduce U.S. financial contributions to various U.N. agencies. The move won the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Pa.). All four were -- or had been -- associated with the committee.

Mansfield's connection with the Committee of One Million from 1955 through the early Kennedy years illustrates that, over time, many of Washington's most durable politicians worked both sides of the China-policy street. In addition to Sparkman, Ribicoff and Javits, other one-time committee activists, who played turnabout on the question of Sino-American relations include former president Gerald R. Ford, during his days as a GOP congressman from Michigan; Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.); the former chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, Thomas E. Morgan (D-Pa.), and that committee's current chairman, Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.).

On the eve of Nixon's departure to China in 1972, the indefatigable Judd, then 73, announced the formation of the Committee for a Free China. Among its founders were sever representatives and two senators, Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Goldwater. Later they were joined by, among others, Buckley, who was defeated in 1976, Carl Curtis (R-Neb.), who recently retired, and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), still going strong.

This nucleus of diehards, aided by newer congressional recruits, such as Sens, Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Harry F. Byrd Jr., is now fighting a rear-guard action on several fronts against the Carter administration's cancellation of the mutual defense treaty.

Whether the people on that uncertain island will indeed enjoy "peace, prosperity and welfare" is still an open question -- which, of course, explains why remnants of the old China Lobby now scurry through the halls of Congress.