SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Maria Nolan

BA (Dublin), MSc (London)
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  • Research


Maria Nolan
Ms Maria Nolan
Email address:
Thesis title:
China’s Zhai: Exploring the Use of a New Social Label among Young Urban Chinese
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

The aim of my research is to conduct the first anthropological investigation of a recent phenomenon, zhai, in contemporary China. A popular word on the Chinese Internet and among young urban Chinese in recent years, zhai, which can be literally translated as ‘residence’, refers to a tendency towards spending the majority of one’s time at home. The word originated from the Japanese term otaku and is believed to have entered the Chinese language through Taiwanese popular culture. Chinese media reports, in recent years, have highlighted a trend to refer to oneself as a zhainan (‘home guy’) or zhainu (‘home girl’), particularly among the generation born after 1990, a cohort of highly active Internet users.

The broad aim of my research is to find out why many Chinese youth have chosen to identify with zhai, through extensive fieldwork in the offline and online environments they inhabit. This study will not only address the need for an understanding of contemporary Chinese youth; it will also make valuable contributions to anthropological knowledge on ideas of self, family, and home, and on the ways that new digital technologies are shaping our world.


  • Contemporary China
  • Concepts of Self
  • Personhood and Identity
  • Anthropology of Home
  • Social Media