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.
“Once the Master asked, ‘What is the question that lays it all out?’ In place of the asked monk, Yunmen answered, ‘Whack the monk next to me.’”
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.
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.
Much of what we know of Gendun Chopel in the West must surely be due to the efforts of Donald Lopez, who tells us that he’s written six books on him; “I had not intended to write so much about him,” he says on the first page of this new book, but readers should be glad that sometimes intentions simply go out of the window!
This special exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History makes considerable use of audiovisuals, especially video, which have the dual advantage of not requiring insurance and holding the interest better than, say, incomplete pots which, however interesting, can also be somewhat dry.
“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.