Exotic places; In China, by Eve Arnold. New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc. $30.

Picture-book lovers haven't truly glimpsed today's China until they have seen the 170 magnificent color photographs in this book, compiled from photojournalist Eve Arnold's 40,000-mile, five-month-long journey through that vast country in 1979.

After waiting more than 10 years for approval of her special visa, she was given practically free access to all of China, traveling with only one interpreter. Besides the familiar places -- Peking, Shanghai, Canton, Soochow, Chungking, Wuhan --areas normally closed to foreigners --der regions near the Soviet Union, Burma, and Tibet.

Studying her remarkable series of portraits that look their subjects straight in the eye, a reader comes away with the feeling that the nearly 1 billion people living under Communist Chinese rule remain individuals. Miss Arnold says she was deeply impressed by the spirit of China's people, and that spirit simply radiates from these wonderful photos.

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