Auto-Ethnographic Research: Production, Consumption and Representation of Drones in China and the Asian-Pacific Response

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An auto ethnographic response to regulation and policy in the Asian-pacific region had the potential to investigate a number of possibilities and reasons why these certain laws were in place. So this is how I decided to structure my project initially and accumulate a number of statistics and expertise in the area of Drone flying within Australia and overseas to accumulate the idea of a “responsible pilot”. Consistent of this approach to research, I found myself exploring and researching into something completely different, in the Chinese position globally with drones and UAVs (un-manned aerial vehicles) and the Asian-Pacific response. This idea of the use of narrative in conducting a research train of thought worked for me as I could draw from personal experience in drone technology, and collect information that’s happening now in terms of production, consumption and representation of drones in China. I purchased a Parrot A.R Drone 2.0 to fly and video various elements of agriculture and examine the way it can improve productivity and investigate the all-round usefulness of the technology for farmers. Whilst I learnt the controls, I couldn’t help but notice the (mostly Chinese) international students gathering around and looking out the window of the spectacle. This influenced me in a development of my investigation to focus on China, still taking into account surrounding countries and their stance on the new platform.

I got my own basic pamphlet within the box detailing the rules here in Australia to which I’d like to contrast with that in China and Japan particularly and then explore why this could be the case.  Current Australian Regulation according to UAV international looks like this:

General Australian Drone Laws:

You may NOT fly your drone closer than 30 meters to vehicles, boats or buildings that are on private property or you must have explicit permission from the private property owner.

You may NOT fly your drone over populated areas such as beaches, other people’s backyards, heavily populated parks or sports areas where games are currently in session.

You may NOT operate your drone within 5.5 Km radius of any aerodrome, airfield, airport, seaplane taking off or landing, or helicopter landing sites located at hospitals, police stations or other locations. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to be aware of your surroundings and ignorance is no defence.

You may ONLY operate your drone during daylight.

You MUST ONLY operate your drone in good weather conditions and maintain visual contact with your UAV at all times.

You may NOT fly your drone above 400 feet (123 meters).

UAV must NOT drop or discharge an object from your drone that poses a risk to another aircraft, persons or property.

Approval is required for operation of a drone weighing 150 Kilograms (fixed wing) or 100 Kilograms (rotary wing).

A drone must NOT be operated within 30 meters of a person not directly associated with the operation of that UAV.

You may NOT operate a drone using FPV equipment.

Regulation in regards to the use of drones in Asia varies from country to country, from completely outlawed to slowly adapting the popularity and changing aerospace laws to suit consumer needs.

China are currently reviewing extensively their drone regulations and  have a general set of policies in place to cover basic drone flying in accordance with the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China). They are as follows according to UAV Systems International:

General China Drone Laws:

Drone Less than 7Kg? OK for Operation

Drone 7Kg – 116Kg? Licence from CAAC required

>116Kg? Pilots licence and UAV certification required for operation

Drone flights in controlled areas require approval in advance

Approval from CAAC is needed for all commercial drone flights

Japan being the innovative technological country I’ve come to know and love, I assumed it would lead the way in its regulation to try and emerge this technology. It did take off in its beginning in the country with legislation giving it every opportunity to be prevalent in the country, quickly. However, a drone carrying radioactive substances landed on government building with the prime minister located inside, and since the policies have become increasingly stronger as It is now illegal to fly drones in public parks. Thus, according to UAV systems international

General Japan Drone Laws:

You must fly your drone below 150 meters

You must fly your drone at least 9Km away from airports

You must not fly your drone over crowds

You must stay away from all power lines

In accordance with the road transport law you are not allowed to fly your drone over any roads

In accordance with the land property law you are not allowed to fly over any property without permission from the owner

Osaka has banned drone use in all parks within the city limits

I also researched and uncovered laws in Korea, Singapore and Thailand and speculated their relationships and similarities in relation to Australia, Japan and China.

I closely examined China’s drone development as a nation and one way this was made possible, in conjunction with the Ellis reading, investigating to “forms of representation that deepen our capacity to empathise with people who are different from us”, thus I studied, and at times struggled with, the language and cultural expressions of Asian countries.

The following is the expression of each country and the associate verb or noun that comes with the English term “drone”

Japaneseドローン – growl, groan, roar, snarl, moan, drone

Chinese 無人駕駛飛機 – hiss, neigh, hissing, fizzing, buzz, drone

Korean – 무인 비행기

mu-in bihaeng-gi – buzz and buzz, hum, boom

Indonesian – dengung -rumble, thunder, propaganda

This details fears and anxieties perhaps explained in the way the expression drone is culturally constructed with an unknown element and a restricted control sector for particular countries. All these words displayed negative connotations and were associated with almost scary meanings when paired with the English equivalent to the expression drone.

China being perhaps the most lenient in their policy of flying in comparison to other Asian continents has implemented drone technology into their military capabilities and has seen tremendous success. It has successfully flown their first 20 minute stealth drone, Lijian, as a part of their innovative advancements. Authorities have suggested that the technology can strengthen intelligence gathering techniques on their neighbouring countries. It is powered by a single jet engine and is the result of a partnership between Chinese aerospace firms Shenyang Aviation and Hongdu Aviation Industry. Lijian, which means “sharp sword” in Putonghua again comes back to a hostile and potentially dangerous connotation when thinking about it to the citizens of the population, and thus it’s surrounding countries.

A Chinese company has been predicted to control over half the UAV manufacturing industry over the next 10 years according to studies in the Forecast International. The report predicts that the global drone market will more than double in the next ten years, rising from $942 million in 2014 to an annual $2.3 billion in 2023. The reasoning behind the market increased hasn’t been linked to increase in production, more the increase in cost of the technology.

“The report forecasts that the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), a state-owned Chinese defence company, will lead the world in UAV production. According to Forecast International, AVIC will produce about $5.76 billion worth of UAVs through 2023. This is more than half of the UAVs by value that will be produced during this time period. Nearly all these will be sold to Chinese consumers.”(The Diplomat, 2014)

In terms of commercial drones flown by citizens, China’s DJI brand of drones are a top choice of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts worldwide, particularly in the U.S in areas such as cinematography, agriculture, construction and surveillance. Mr Wang’s DJI creation is a new breed of Chinese company. China became an economic juggernaut by in large part manufacturing cheap goods for companies from other countries. In recent years, a handful of Chinese firms, including Huawei Technologies Co., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (which is an online trade business)   and Lenovo Group Ltd (electronics)., have evolved from imitators to global leaders in their sectors. DJI has taken that further by creating a product that is, in many ways, the first of its kind. At a time when most drones were assembled from kits by enthusiasts, it developed systems that stabilized both the aircraft and its camera, and packaged them into an inexpensive device ready to fly out of the box. This information sparked personal epiphany when I was conducting my research in rural New South Wales, with people showing interest in a project that started as an idea. Australia is still figuring out the drone’s potential and my plans to introduce the technology further into Australia especially in these places where it’s virtually unknown.

Tensions have been brewing in the wake that China is well known to have plans for its military drones (UAVs) to conduct missions that are of less importance and more ‘test’ missions for] example it has been reported that Beijing had considered conducting a drone strike somewhere in the Golden Triangle to eliminate a Myanmar drug dealer who was wanted in China. Although around the same time of year, Japan was celebrating its nationalisation of the islands of Senkaku when authorities detected a labelled unidentified UAV which interfered with their aircraft, flying around the islands. Initially China didn’t claim it, however came around to say it belonged to them and that it had been on a routine mission around the area. In response, Japanese authorities have been reported on intending to shoot down any instances of UAV activity entering its airspace. China returned by saying it would consider this an act of war. Very interesting to consider when China is leading the way with their military UAVs being produced to a global market, and Japans need for the technology.

Zachary Keck 2014, China to Lead World in Drone Production, The Diplomat, viewed 24th September 2015, <>

Arthur Herman 2014, Japans Coming Drone Revolution, Hudson Institute, viewed 24th September 2015, <>

Jack Nicas 2014, Who Builds The World’s Most Popular Drones, The Wall Street Journal, viewed 24th September 2015, <;

Coco Feng 2015, Evolution of the species: world’s largest drone producer DJI plots open platform as China eyes customised drones, South China Morning Post, viewed 24th September 2015, <>

He Huifeng 2015, China restricts exports of ‘high performance’ drones as national security fears heighte, South China Morning Post, viewed 21st September 2015, <>

DroneInfo 2015, The Current state of Global Drone Regulations: Drone regulations across the globe are rapidly evolving, we are working to stay on top of them, The Drone Info, viewed 23rd September 2015, <>

UAV Systems International year unknown, Drone Laws by Country, UAV Systems International, viewed 20th September 2015, <>

Christopher Harress 2014, The Rise Of China’s Drone Fleet And Why It May Lead To Increased Tension In Asia, International Business Times, viewed 24th September 2015, <>

Google 2015, Google Translate (available online), viewed 25th September 2015, <>

Ellis, L, Adams T.E, Bochner A.P 2011, ‘History of Auto-ethnography’, Auto-ethnography: An Overview, vol.12, no.1, viewed 24th September 2015,<>


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