SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Nolan, Maria Bernadette (2021) An Anthropological Study of Zhai in Contemporary Urban China. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] Text - Submitted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only until 16 December 2024.


This thesis is based on an ethnographic study of a phenomenon, zhai, which has emerged in urban China. Zhai, which can be literally translated as ‘residence’, refers to a tendency towards staying indoors. Approximately ten years ago, Chinese media began to report on a trend among urban youth of labelling oneself zhai. Alongside the expansion of the Internet and digital media in China, the term zhai came to be associated with a new generation of Chinese youth – a cohort of highly active Internet users accustomed to communicating with others online through popular social media platforms and to seeking entertainment through online videos and games. This project, based on research conducted over a twelve-month period in Beijing, investigates the meaning of zhai in today’s urban China, where digital media are firmly embedded in the everyday lives of youth and the majority of citizens. It asks why one may associate or dissociate with the label, and how zhai behaviour may exist, in this context. The thesis begins with an exploration of how, in a practical sense, zhai behaviour is facilitated in everyday life in an urban Chinese environment. It then examines the role of zhai in relation to the family and to broader social contexts, namely, the university and the workplace, where there are expectations to be sociable. The final part explores the relationship between zhai and the online environment, examining the extent to which social media are driving a ‘closing off’ of the self from offline environments. This thesis not only provides an understanding of why zhai emerged as a popular identity label among youth; in exploring how its meaning has been transformed, it provides commentaries on the politics of social spaces, on the pressures experienced by urban Chinese families, and on how digital media are transforming spaces of leisure.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Kevin Latham
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2021 16:33
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item