History by way of “things” has itself become a “thing”. Archaeologists, of course, always did history this way. But they would focus on, usually, assemblages of objects, rather individual pieces. While perhaps not the first—nothing is ever the first—the BBC and the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor popularized the concept.

The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler's Cross: Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate, TK Nakagaki (Stone Bridge Press, April 2018)
The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross: Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate, TK Nakagaki (Stone Bridge Press, April 2018)

The swastika has been used for over three thousand years by billions of people in many cultures and religions—including Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism—as an auspicious symbol of the sun and good fortune. However, beginning with its hijacking and misappropriation by Nazi Germany, it has also been used, and continues to be used, as a symbol of hate in the Western World.

Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)
Buddhist Pilgrim-Monks as Agents of Cultural and Artistic Transmission: The International Buddhist Art Style in East Asia, ca. 645-770, Dorothy C Wong (NUS Press, July 2018)

The period ca. 645-770 marked an extraordinary era in the development of East Asian Buddhism and Buddhist art. Increased contacts between China and regions to both its west and east facilitated exchanges and the circulation of ideas, practices and art forms, giving rise to a synthetic art style uniform in both iconography and formal characteristics. The formulation of this new Buddhist art style occurred in China in the latter part of the seventh century, and from there it became widely disseminated and copied throughout East Asia, and to some extent in Central Asia, in the eighth century.

“Over the past two years Chinese communists have devoted increasing attention to extending their influence in the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia,” reads an United States government report from 1957. To counter that influence, Eugene Ford writes in Cold War Monks, the US developed a strategy of “considerable guile, sophistication, and determination”, a funneling of significant funds through a front organization to help the Buddhist faith retain its hold on local populations and its leadership aligned with Western interests.