THE United States has denied entry to the daughter of a leading Chinese exile despite its stated efforts to reunite the families of Chinese who took refuge abroad after the 1989 Beijing massacre.The decision to bar Hu Ainong, daughter of Chinese dissident Ge Yang, also contradicts recent attempts by Washington to push Beijing to grant exit permits to the families of "Chinese personalities" living abroad. Ms. Hu has applied for a visa four times since August 1990 in an attempt to join her elderly mother, who lives alone on a meager income in Brooklyn, N.Y. The US Embassy in Beijing has rejected each application. Ms. Ge, former editor of the outspoken New Observer magazine, has been forced to live in exile in the US since Beijing crushed the democracy movement on June 4, 1989. Chinese hard-liners have banned Ge's writings, expelled her from the Communist Party, and shut down the New Observer. "It is very hard for me to understand. My mother is already 75 years old. She is alone. They should understand this," says Ms. Hu. US visa officers have treated her politely but have refused to listen to her attempts to explain her mother's situation, she says. "I always thought China would cause problems for me. I never thought it would be the United States," Hu says. The decision to bar Hu is apparently the result of a technicality in US visa-issuing rules explained in a March 4 State Department cable. The rules grant "sympathetic consideration" to the spouses and minor children of Chinese exiled in the US after the 1989 crackdown. Hu is not a minor, and is therefore not eligible for special treatment. Given the restrictions, Hu is unlikely to receive a visa unless she can muster high-profile political support from US lawmakers, US officials say. "To put it crudely, it depends on visibility," says a US official on condition of anonymity. Chinese intellectuals and US lawyers, scholars, and human rights activists have expressed disbelief and dismay over the handling of Hu's case. "This is a great misunderstanding," says journalist Zhang Weiguo, China's most outspoken dissident, who spent 20 months in jail for his involvement in the democracy movement. Critics argue that Hu's need to care for her aged mother is just as compelling as the need of younger children to be reunited with their dissident parents. This fall, the US gave visas to the children and wives of five other exiled Chinese dissidents. "Of course she should get the same treatment," says Tamara Fillinger, a New York lawyer familiar with the case. Ge "really needs her daughter here. She just doesn't happen to fall into the right category." The US has recently pressed China to stop denying its citizens the freedom to leave the country. US Secretary of State James Baker III, the highest US official to visit China since the 1989 killings, discussed the problem with Chinese leaders in Beijing last month. "Having raised the issue of denial of exit permits to prominent intellectuals and families of Chinese personalities now abroad, we were assured that any person against whom no criminal proceedings were pending would be allowed to leave after completing the usual formalities," Baker said at a Nov. 17 press conference in Beijing. Hu obtained an exit permit and passport from Chinese authorities more than 14 months ago.