Not only Ronald Reagan is going to China. Traveling in his entourage are almost 600 other Americans - from government officials, Secret Service personnel, and journalists to a hairdresser for Nancy Reagan. The logistics in moving such a horde of people to the People's Republic of China is mind-boggling, requiring months of planning.
To the broadcast journalists probably belongs the prize for amount of baggage. In anticipation of an electronic media extravaganza, they are toting along 35,000 pounds of gear - 8,000 pounds more than they took on the presidential trip to Japan last year.
The Chinese, although no strangers to big numbers, would have liked a smaller pilgrimage. When negotiations for the Reagan trip began, administration officials say, the Chinese proposed a total American contingent of about 200. The American side wanted more than 600, and in the end accepted a slight comedown.
''We pointed out to the Chinese that they risk creating the impression that China is still a 'closed' China,'' said one White House aide. ''So they finally relented and tripled the number.''
About 260 of the 600 people finally agreed upon are with the press. Fewer than 100 are officials and staff from the White House, State Department, and National Security Council. The rest are security and communications personnel.
Lack of hotel accommodations and of communication facilities were the reasons the Chinese cited for wanting to hold down the number of visitors. But administration officials believe the Chinese leadership is concerned about the influx of foreigners generally and their impact on a still very controlled society. Hence they sought to keep the Reagan party as contained as possible.
Both sides made concessions in the planning, United States officials say. The President, for instance, will be able to travel in China aboard Air Force One. President Nixon, during his visit in 1972, had to use a Chinese aircraft to fly from Peking to Shanghai.
But the US journalists will travel from the Chinese capital to Shanghai in three Chinese aircraft, all Boeing 737s, instead of the Pan Am charter in which they arrive. This will add appreciably to the cost of their trip.
''Despite some problems, the Chinese are great to deal with,'' commented one of the five White House officials along to handle press transportation. ''They strike a hard bargain for what they want, but once you've agreed on things they are honest and honorable in carrying out an agreement. That's a contrast to the Russians, who haggle, then give in, and then often fail to do what they said they would do.''
Among the things the Americans asked for on this occasion is an American menu for the reciprocal dinner that the President will give his Chinese hosts. On past presidential trips, the Americans asked for a Chinese meal, but the fare this time will be a turkey dinner, complete with chestnut stuffing, giblet gravy , and fresh garden vegetables. The Reagan party is bringing the wines from California, but the Chinese will have imported 150 turkeys to feed the 600 guests. Also, a Chinese orchestra will provide American-style dinner music.
The schedule for both the President and his wife have been worked out to the last detail. There are not likely to be any surprises on this trip. The President already knows where he will be, minute by minute, what speeches and statements he will make at each event, the texts of the cultural and other agreements already completed, and the wording of the toasts he will give.
Every care has been taken to ensure that the President is well rested. President Nixon, among others, advised Mr. Reagan to overcome jet lag before arriving in Peking. This is why stopovers were planned in Hawaii and Guam. Even on a beach in Hawaii, however, the President took along a three-inch China briefing book.
Nancy Reagan's local itinerary has been worked out with no less care. Traveling with a staff of five, including a social secretary, and with Julius along to keep her freshly coiffed, Mrs. Reagan will have a busy schedule blending cultural events with brief encounters with Chinese citizens.
At the zoo in Peking she will present a $13,000 check representing pennies collected by US schoolchildren to help save the Chinese panda. She will also visit an ancient temple, have tea at the all-China Women's Federation, and visit a ''neighborhood committee.'' In Shanghai, Mrs. Reagan will observe a religious service at a Buddhist temple and visit the Children's Palace.
Administration officials say the Chinese have been cooperative in planning Mrs. Reagan's schedule. But there are indications the Americans would have liked room for a bit more spontaneity - not always having Mrs. Reagan accompanied by a Chinese escort, for instance.
As the American travelers prepare to leave US territory, there is anticipation in the air. Even the most blase reporters, officials, and airline personnel seem to feel that a journey to China is something out of the ordinary.
''This is the high point of my life,'' bubbled a stewardess on the Pan Am press plane. ''I never dreamed I would be going to China.''