After 21 years, the June 4 crackdown continues to haunt its main actors - and the nation. Just this month, we have the unauthorised publication of what is believed to be the diary of former premier Li Peng and a decision by former student leader Chai Ling to drop a long-standing lawsuit against a critical documentary film about the student-led protests. Though these two pivotal figures were on opposing sides of the barricades, there is a sense that both were trying to come to terms with the events that have marked them for life. They stand at very different ends of the scale. In his diary, Li clearly wants to show that the decision to clear Tiananmen Square of protesters by force was not his to make but a collective one made by the Communist Party elders. Whatever the truth of the matter, the resulting bloodshed was the responsibility of the nation's leaders - among whom was Li. At the time, Chai and her peers might have made some bad decisions, but they were not responsible for the deaths. To argue that is to, in effect, blame the victims. Unfortunately, that was hinted at in The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a serious but controversial documentary that raised questions about the culpability of the student leaders. Li has long lived with the label of the man who pushed for the use of force. Though he stands by his belief that the decision was the correct one, it does not seem like one he wants to embrace alone. He writes that more than 300 died that night - although the real number may never be known. It remains the party line that the nation would have descended into chaos if the government had agreed to the students' demands and that the phenomenal economic success of the past two decades would have been impossible. Yet to argue that killings were necessary for the nation's economic juggernaut to take off is at best a long stretch. Be that as it may, the Li diary, if it is authentic, shows that the typical Western image of the communist state as a monolithic governing body was false. There were fierce debates within the top echelons of the party about how to deal with the protesters, and whether to label them as misguided patriots or counter-revolutionary criminals. We know the hardline faction that Li represented won. The diary may throw some light on his exact role. But however hard Li tries to portray it as a collective decision of the top leaders, he does bear responsibility for his stance. Still, the mainland has abolished counter-revolution as a crime. And though Beijing is far from reversing its verdict on June 4, it no longer calls those student leaders 'black hands' or counter-revolutionaries. Rather, it seems to simply avoid the subject. One reason it can afford to do so is that few student leaders succeeded in playing a significant role as dissidents in their exile. The internal fire that thrust so many of them into the limelight did not sustain itself abroad. Many, including Chai, moved on with their lives. The high expectations of their supporters, inside and outside China, were unfulfilled; and the documentary film contributed to their diminished stature. Chai was quoted in the film as saying they wanted to see bloodshed to make their point. She said she had been wrongly translated and launched a fruitless lawsuit against the filmmakers that lasted for years. Wisely, she has now dropped it. As China re-emerges as a world power, it is time for its leaders to show courage and face this national trauma forthrightly. That will allow the nation to move forward.