Looking for footprints in the sands of time...

This was our mission as we set out to explore the well-known Chinese thread in the fabric of Balinese culture.

Throughout Bali, artists, scholars, royal palaces and local villagers talk of an enduring and historic Chinese influence to be found in their arts, architecture and design orientation, dance, medicinal herbs, cuisine, trade history and aspects of ceremony. And even in their genes.

To Fivelements, the invitation to be part of a project in Hong Kong, was the closing of an ancient and important circle representing Balinese culture in the ‘Middle Kingdom.’ It was picking up threads of a rich exchange of trade and culture going back two millennia.

There is poetry, symmetry and continuity in this large cycle of time expressing itself in a new set of linkages.

Our intention is to celebrate these links in their fullness, bringing Balinese culture back to the land where it was known in the 5th & 6th centuries CE, rich in its own traditions, while celebrating absorbed influences from its Imperial trading partner, China.

We asked Fivelements’ Advisory Board member, Professor Gerry Bodeker of Oxford University, who is known for his work on the health and cultural traditions of Asia, to assist in putting substance to the legends, beliefs, stories and artistic expressions of this historic fusion of cultures.

In our journey of exploration through extensive ethnographic and academic investigation, including ancient manuscripts, throughout the island of Bali, our research yielded a treasury of detail and evidence that give us the framework to create a new expression of Fivelements in HK. This expression, deeply grounded as ever in its core healing philosophy, Tri Hita Karana, celebrates the royal, artistic and medicinal dimensions of Balinese culture that are, even to this day, suffused with Chinese influence.

As we looked deeper we found that the famous gold headdress and jewels worn by Balinese royal brides and dancers, are a close variant of similar headdresses found in Chinese dance, Cantonese opera and other cultural traditions.

In addition, artistically carved gold instruments, silks and other fine threaded textiles will be featured in fine gallery style throughout the spaces of Fivelements, HK conveying the rich cultural link with Bali.

To our amazement, when we looked into the context of an ancient Chinese settlement in northern Bali, we found that its name Pingan (Ping An), means ‘plate’ in Indonesian, echoing the Chinese role in bringing ceramics and ceramic production into Bali and Java. This was especially so through this maritime regency of Singaraja, with its history of receiving trading ships from China and elsewhere. Celebrating this heritage, Fivelements will bring tea sets and plate ware for the project incorporating Chinese celadon and handmade wood-fired techniques with ceramic artisans in Bali.

At the heart of Balinese culture – Royal palaces, village temples and art museums – we found Chinese graphic motifs and statues. All of these are examples of Chinese influence in Bali today.

As has been common throughout China’s trading history, alliances were forged early on with rulers and leaders of society, sometimes resulting in intermarriages. Paramount among legends is the tale of King Jayapangus who, in his trading kingdom of Singaraja, married the daughter of a wealthy Chinese merchant who came to Bali. The significance was of trade and tributary relations to come. Today, this royal marriage has come to signify an important connection representing wealth and prosperity.

Another symbol of prosperity for Balinese – perhaps the most mercantile of icons – is the ancient Chinese coin – once adopted as a currency of trade and an object of production in Java and Bali, has over time been absorbed into an object of ritual and even healing expression in Bali.

Among the healing plants was the legendary ‘Dragon’s Blood’ a rare medicinal imported from Bali and Java to China for multiple uses in Chinese medicine. This plant will be featured in our medicinal garden plan at Fivelements, Hong Kong as are other herbs traded between the two realms along with some of Bali’s most potent natural healing species.

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To date much of Balinese healing and wellness tradition that is known to the outside world has been presented in a very rustic village style. Our research has found that the highest level of Balinese society – the royalty – has preserved rich healing traditions as well.

Taking this as our influence, we have chosen a Royal Balinese motif as a theme for Fivelements, Hong Kong as the richness of Balinese culture returns once more to the home of its ancient royal friend.

We have found footprints in the sands of time.

Creative Design Direction: An authentic wellness concept and inspiring eco design blended with royal Balinese accents that graciously connect the centuries-old trade and tributary relations between Bali and imperial China, and reflect the Chinese cultural influence on Balinese living culture.

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