China and the Global Edible Bird’s Nest Industry

Kasem Jandam1

1Thailand Science Research and Innovation (TSRI.)

Edible bird’s nests obtained from swiftlets have long been used as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine. They are believed to help nourish the body, cure disease, and bring longevity. The bird’s nest trade between China and Southeast Asia, the source of most of the world’s bird’s nests, dates back at least to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Today it is a globalized industry worth billions of dollars. A production belt system processes bird’s nests – both naturally occurring and in swiftlet houses – to supply the health and beauty industry. China is the world’s largest importer of bird’s nests, more than 90 percent or which are imported illegally. The international bird’s nest business is dominated ethnic Chinese businesspeople in other countries through relatives and friends and local bird’s nest business associations. In 2011 the Chinese government issued regulations governing bird nest products and the quality of imported bird nests. Companies that import bird’s nests to China must now have their certification registered by the China Certification Control Board. There is an online direct selling bird’s nest business and a flourishing e-commerce system through websites and WeChat. Market competition is fierce. This paper looks at the modernization of the ancient bird’s nest trade.


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The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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