SO MUCH for four millenniums of mealtime habits in China: the chopstick is getting the ax. Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang -- one of the first prominent officials to chuck the Mao tunics and go three-piece Western -- says the country's 1.1 billion resident diners should switch to knives and forks. What's more, Mr. Hu recommends that they stop the common-plate tradition and "buy more plates and sit around the table to eat Chinese food in the Western style, that is, each from his own plate. . . . By doing so, we can avoid contagious diseases." There are even some new diet recommendations: more meat and dairy products.

If these eating trends continue, life and times at the table in China will start to resemble the great Western traditions of Chinese-American restaurants, home of the combination platter and Columns A and B. Obviously the fancy china teapot used over there will have to be replaced by the metal guaranteed-spill model used in this country. Rugs and excessive decorations will have to go, of course, and many people will be asked to take their food somewhere else in a paper carton with a hygienic wire handle.

But let's hold it right here for a minute, before anybody in China suggests substituting hot dogs for egg rolls. If the object is supposed to be better health through Western eating, they should note that the old resort to meat and dairy products has been turned around in the West. Before Mr. Hu's announcement, occidental health experts had taken a cue from the Chinese and urged against eating too much meat and dairy products rich in fats and cholesterol.

We have one answer that will keep down the cholesterol and keep Americans trim: serve egg drop soup -- with chopsticks.