A Year Abroad in China: Raphael Zyss

7th January 2020

Raphael Zyss, a third year student at Pembroke studying BA Chinese, recently spent a year abroad at Peking University in China, and also had the opportunity to travel around the western part of the country. This allowed him to experience a wide range of Chinese culture and tradition, and demonstrated the opportunities that are available to students who take a year abroad.

A large part of Raphael’s travelling experience focused on visiting historic religious communities and participating in spiritual traditions. This began in Emeishan, Sichuan, where Raphael was introduced to a monk in a small wooden monastery, and took part in daily rituals such as maintenance of the monastery and food preparation. Raphael frequently sat with the abbot, his students, and other monks and nuns under a large willow tree, often discussing religious texts or simply contemplating in silence.

In Kham, one of the historic provinces of Tibet, Raphael lived in a small nunnery behind the historic Dargye monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. From here, he saw first-hand the contrast between stone ruins of monasteries that had been burnt down during the Cultural Revolution, and the construction sites of brand new, state funded monasteries.

Raphael has sought to portray his experiences via a small exhibition in the Oriental Institute. The photos in the exhibition are designed to show the way, physical and symbolic, in which Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism have envisioned the path to enlightenment leading from the city, and into the mountains.

Discussing his year in China, Raphael commented: “During my time there, I was privileged to experience the cultural diversity of China and witness some of its spiritual traditions.

I am deeply thankful to all those that I’ve met, and to those who made such travel possible. I hope my photos will share some of the experiences I was fortunate to have.”

A scene from the Chinese countryside, typical of Raphael's time there.
A scene from the Chinese countryside, typical of Raphael's time there.