A state appeals court Wednesday refused to return a 6-year-old Chinese girl to her biological parents, who put her in the custody of an American couple shortly after her birth.

The 2-1 Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling upheld a lower court decision that took away the parental rights of Shaoqiang "Jack" He and Qin Luo "Casey" He to their first-born child, Anna Mae.

The five-year struggle by the Hes, Chinese citizens who live in Memphis, to regain custody of Anna Mae has drawn support from the Chinese Embassy in Washington and led Chinese community groups to complain of cultural bias in Tennessee courts.

Shaoqiang He received word of the appeals court decision while at work as manager of a Chinese restaurant.

"We don't understand why it is so difficult for our family to be reunited," he said.

The decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, said David Siegel, a lawyer for the Hes. Anna Mae, meanwhile, will remain with Jerry and Louise Baker, who have raised her since shortly after her birth in January 1999.

Jerry Baker, whose family was entertaining relatives for Thanksgiving, said the decision will "make a special day that much more special."

Larry Parrish, the Bakers' lawyer, said the custody battle could go on for up to three more years and end up in the federal courts.

A Memphis judge ruled in May 2004 that the Hes abandoned their daughter by failing to visit her for four months while she was in the Bakers' custody.

Legal arguments focused on whether the Hes "willfully" abandoned the child or understood the legal definition of abandonment.

The Hes, who were facing financial and legal troubles when their daughter was born, say they thought they were putting her in temporary foster care. They have had two other children since Anna Mae was born.