Bloody Mother’s Love

Read in Chinese (Simplified)

The original article was written in Chinese in 2010 for Mother’s Day, and published in the online edition of Zaobao.

Mother’s Day is round the corner again. While we are celebrating the day and appreciating how much our mothers have done for us, let us also be acquainted with a very special mother. This mother, well, has gotten pregnant. So she has to make sure that her babies would have a fuzzy house to live in. She finds a spot on a cliff, and starts building their cozy home. To accomplish the job, this very special mother uses neither bricks nor cement. She does not engage a smart architect, nor does she get any labourers to do the manual work. Instead, she does all the work, all by herself. Even the materials for the new home comes from her – her own saliva.yanwo 03b

yanwo 04bThis amazing mother is none other than the swiftlet. Drop by drop, layer by layer, she painstakingly builds up her cozy nest – unstained, transparent and sparkling, since it contains nothing but her saliva. After twenty over days, this laborious job is finally completed. Her soon-to-be-born babies are going to have a warm and fuzzy home! Unfortunately, soon after, the home she has just built mysteriously disappears. What alternative has she got, other than to rebuild her lost home. Her babies are due soon. Pressed for time, and being weaker than before, she fails to secrete enough saliva. She resorts to pecking off her own feathers, in addition to finding some hay to make up for the deficiency. Alas! Her backbreaking effort is in vain, for the painful work of labour mysteriously disappears once again. Her babies are due any moment, and therefore no matter how strenuous, she has to rebuild her home again. It is, after all, too much to bear physically and mentally. And so, the saliva from her at such a fatigued stage is stained with blood.

We might not have met this great mother personally. But the home that she painstakingly builds? We have most probably eaten it before. For it is none other than the highly prized bird’s nest.yanwo 01b

yanwo 05b

bird’s nest collector risking his life

Perhaps we have never given a thought to how a bird’s nest could have such a tragic story behind. What we humans consider a nutritious delicacy turns out to be the home that a mother builds for her babies! Whether the babies can survive or not depends on whether the nest collector spares their lives by refraining from collecting the third nest the mother builds – the ‘blood nest’. Apparently some are so cruel that they remove the babies from the nest, fling them down the cliffs and let them die. The collectors risk their own lives climbing the steep cliffs, just to rob the homes of weak mothers and their tiny babies, in order to fill the pockets of middlemen and to satisfy the tastebuds of consumers.

The key to stop all this mad cruelty of exploiting motherly love lies in us – the consumers. Let’s give the homes back to the mothers.

yanwo 07 This article is dedicated to my mother, who has devoted half her life to raise me up, as well as to all mothers – including the great swiftlet mothers – who have sacrificed so much for their children. (Chinese article written on 6th May, 2010; published in Zaobao online edition on 7th May)


  1. The bird’s nest that humans consume is of a different variety than the nests that swallows make around human homes.
  2. The above was written according to my understanding of the way things are. There might be varying situations, which I am unable nor interested to verify. From my standpoint, as long as animals are used as a means to make money, the result can only be tragedy. The animals will undoubtedly be exploited and suffer, and we humans who do the exploitation will also invariably have to take the negative consequences eventually.
  3. Some Buddhists ask if bird’s nest is vegetarian. Since bird’s nest does not contain any animal flesh, in the common way of understanding it can be considered ‘vegetarian’. However it is not vegan. And logically, if it is not vegan, it cannot be vegetarian in the truest sense of the word. If a Buddhist wants to practise compassion, s(he) should logically not consume bird’s nest. It is obvious that the bird’s nest is the home of a family, that the mother painstakingly makes to raise her babies. Taking the nest is equivalent to stealing and destroying a home, which is breaking the precept of not stealing. The negative domino effects of the demand for bird’s nest is also something that Buddhists should not turn a blind eye to. The collectors put their own lives at high risk. If there are no consumers, there are no middlemen, nor collectors who risk their lives, nor tragic deaths or homeless birds. All is interlinked, and to destroy the vicious cycle, all it takes is for you and I to stop the demand. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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