A French photography collector living in China made a surprising discovery about Chinese weddings held in the 1980s and 1990s. Thomas Sauvin unearthed an old photograph depicting what was apparently a wedding tradition: the bride had to light a cigarette for each man at the wedding banquet.
The tradition was a sign of respect and thanks to the guests, and the photograph that Sauvin found also shows the happy couple smoking a handmade bong made from a Sprite bottle while in their wedding attire.
The French photographer relocated to China over a decade ago, and in 2009 began collecting old photos he finds in a garbage dump. The dump is on the outskirts of Beijing and is home to hundreds of discarded 35mm. negatives, and he buys the negatives for an archival project he started called Beijing Silvermine. The project now has around 500,000 negatives.
The photographs were shot from 1985 to the early 2000s, and they offer a unique and intimate perspective of Chinese lives during a time of huge social changes.
Sauvin had no idea that the cigarette tradition existed until finding this photo, and he has since gone through his archive to try to piece it together. Even young Chinese citizens find the tradition surprising, and Sauvin is fascinated by it.
“What is unusual with this series is that found photography projects usually tend to unearth a story within one stranger’s personal life, but here, it’s a slowly disappearing custom which is bringing the images together,” Sauvin said.
He has now made a book out of it. Using crowd funding, he was able to create 1,000 books titled Until Death Do Us Part.
Though foreign publishers often fall victim to China’s strict guidelines on publishing, Sauvin pushed through.
“I surely wanted this book to be accessible to each and every one in China,” he said.
Almost 800 copies out of the 1,000 were sold within the first month, mostly to Chinese readers. However, he also hopes the photo book will have an impact on Western ideologies concerning China.
“The way China is depicted in the West tends to be very extreme, very passionate, haters being obsessed with corruption, destruction and pollution, lovers being obsessed with martial arts, calligraphy and tea,” he explained. While most brides (84%) stick with the traditional “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” Sauvin hopes that his project will bring back some lesser-known traditions.