In another sign of conciliation toward the Soviet Union, China's long-time ideological and military foe, the government has invited touring performers of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater to visit Peking's leading music academy, according to Soviet Embassy officials.
The four Russian performers had come to Peking as guests of the Soviet ambassador and had not been expected to meet with local students or to play for Chinese audiences outside the embassy because the two nations have no formal cultural agreement.
But Vice Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, who attended a performance by the visiting Bolshoi players last night, reportedly suggested a tour of the Central Music Conservatory while speaking with the Soviet ambassador after the show.
Once a dominant force in modern Chinese song and dance, the Bolshoi has virtually disappeared as a cultural influence since the two Communist powers began drifting apart in the late 1950s.
One of the earliest signs of Sino-Soviet discord was a warning by the late chairman Mao Tse-tung against slavish Chinese devotion to Russian culture.
Now Peking once again is open to cultural crosscurrents from the north as part of an overall normalization of relations with Moscow. Chinese leaders seeking to forge an independent foreign policy consider a more even-handed treatment of the superpowers a key ingredient.
In October, Peking and Moscow began searching for common ground in their first political consultations in three years. Although the talks ended without any sign of progress, both sides agreed to meet again in Moscow sometime this winter.
Initially coy, Peking has taken the diplomatic initiative since the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev last month. China's foreign minister, who was sent to Moscow for Brezhnev's funeral, urged the Kremlin's new bosses to continue the search for a solution to bilateral problems.
Although Peking failed to send a delegation to the Kremlin observances of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Soviet republic, it sent "ardent congratulations" in a message last weekend in which the call for good relations was repeated.
"Both countries must undertake the practical actions to remove the obstacles [to normalization] through consultations, exerting joint efforts to carry out this aim," said the message.
Diplomats pointed out a slight change in the Chinese stance from past messages in which it called solely on the Soviet Union to remove the barriers to better ties.
Peking sets as a condition for normalization the rollback of Moscow's advanced military posture in Asia -- specifically, the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and from the Sino-Soviet border as well as a halt to support for Vietnamese forces in Cambodia.
Nevertheless, Peking has lately indicated a willingness to isolate its strategic differences with Moscow while broadening cultural, educational and economic contacts.
Soviet sources believe subsequent visits by the Bolshoi and other Russian artists may be possible if a cultural exchange program is worked out at the next round of talks.
The group currently touring -- two opera singers and two pianists -- is expected to give an impromptu performance while visiting the conservatory Wednesday. But no formal show is planned, Soviet sources said.