Yunnan flowers: storying cross-species love beyond metaphors


Sun Rui

European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, Volume 58 (2022)

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Abstract: Fresh-cut flowers from the Himalayan region of Yunnan are not only ornamental plants but ‘good to become with’. This article grapples with the nuances of how small-scale growers nurture flowers through affective attentiveness, embodied responsiveness and cross-species love. The protagonist in this ethnography, Panjie, likens growing roses to raising her son – a comparison which, I argue, extends beyond the metaphorical dimension. Juxtaposing childrearing with nurturing roses reveals the seriousness of both efforts, blurring the boundaries between humans and non-humans, and synthesising the pursuit of economic value and affection. In Yunnan, small-scale growers like Panjie develop a literal process of kinship with flora to better cultivate flowers from a landscape that has been damaged by anthropogenic forces. Cross-species love is practised through the embodied feelings of perception towards the miscellaneous needs of flowers. In turn, flowers reciprocate the love by blooming punctually, thereby bringing economic benefits to their nurturers, which further provides the means for other forms of caretaking. Romantic love, the symbolic meaning that a bouquet of red roses conveys on Valentine’s Day, is thus a congealment of love beyond humans, which is transposed from the rose-growing mother’s maternal love to her rose crops.

About the author: Sun Rui was a Linguistic and Semiotic Anthropology Training Program Visiting Fellow from 2021-22.