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In Pictures: China’s Pet cemetery

China celebrates the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival on Monday, with much of the ceremonial ritual of honouring the dead these days not geared towards beloved relatives, but beloved pets.

Once banned by Communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong as a bourgeois pastime, having a pet has now become a symbol of financial success in China, which has seen the emergence of dedicated pet cemeteries in the last few years.

Pet owner Qingqiu gestures to her dog, Little Huoban, after she cleans the tomb of her dog that passed away

Pet owner Qingqiu gestures to her dog, Little Huoban, after she cleans the tomb of her dog that passed away. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Qingqiu was among tomb-sweepers at one such Beijing cemetery to pay tribute to her fluffy Pomeranian “Huoban”, who died at the grand old age of 15.

Zhang Youwang, who works at the Baifu pet cemetery, cleans the tomb of a pet dog Baobao, ahead of the Qingming Festival.

Zhang Youwang, who works at the Baifu pet cemetery, cleans the tomb of a pet dog Baobao, ahead of the Qingming Festival. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

“It’s like a heaven for pets,” Qingqiu said of the Baifu Chongwu Tiantang cemetery, or “Hundred Fortune Pet Heaven”.

Food is placed on the tomb of pet dog Xixi at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of Beijing.

Food is placed on the tomb of pet dog Xixi at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of Beijing. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

“Huoban was very smart. He could pick up moves I taught him very quickly… Visiting the cemetery gives me a feeling that we did not lose our connection.”

A pet owner and her relatives set up decoration flowers for her pet dog Li Naonao at Baifu pet cemetery.

A pet owner and her relatives set up decoration flowers for her pet dog Li Naonao at Baifu pet cemetery. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

She said Huoban had witnessed her fall in love, get married and have a child. “I want to meet you again in the next life” is engraved on his tombstone.

A collar is placed on the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemetery.

A collar is placed on the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemetery. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Tian Peiheng, 66, paid respects at her Pomeranian’s grave, along with her husband and daughter.

A doll is left at the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemetery.

A doll is left at the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemetery. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

“I have deep feelings for her… After she was gone, it was just like losing my own baby,” Tian said.

Toy cars, water and food are left around the tomb of pet dog Zhang Xiaoqiu at Baifu pet cemetery.

Toy cars, water and food are left around the tomb of pet dog Zhang Xiaoqiu at Baifu pet cemetery. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Beyond the intimacy of such tomb-sweeping visits, the pet cemeteries are also making money.

Tomb of pet cat Pangmi, with its picture, is seen at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival.

Tomb of pet cat Pangmi, with its picture, is seen at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

A single plot at Baifu costs between 2,000 and 5,000 yuan ($308 and $770) for 30 years, with an additional yearly management fee of 50 yuan ($7.70), according to gravestone designer Zhang Youwang. Gravestones can cost anything between 2,000 and 20,000 yuan.

Pet owners walk among graves at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of Beijing.

Pet owners walk among graves at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of Beijing. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Baifu now holds more than 3,000 graves.

Tibetan prayer flags wave above a tomb at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival.

Tibetan prayer flags wave above a tomb at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

“For those who do not have dogs or other pets, it’s difficult for them to understand,”Zhang said. “…but pets are just like people. They are people.”

A toy is placed on top of a dogs tomb ahead of the Qingming Festival at Baifu pet cemetery.

A toy is placed on top of a dogs tomb ahead of the Qingming Festival at Baifu pet cemetery. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Such sentiment is relatively new in Communist Party-ruled China. Pets have become fashionable in major cities in line with rising incomes. Up until the 1980s, pet dogs were illegal in Beijing.

Pet owner Ma Ying cleans the glass covering her dog Liu Dazhuang's tomb, with bathtub, dolls and decoration flowers placed inside.

Pet owner Ma Ying cleans the glass covering her dog Liu Dazhuang’s tomb, with bathtub, dolls and decoration flowers placed inside. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

In some parts of China, dogs are still being eaten and transported in overcrowded crates to events such as the annual Yulin dog meat festival in southern Guangxi province which trigger international and local protests.

A pet owner stands next to a tomb.

A pet owner stands next to a tomb. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

China’s growing middle class has started to fight what it sees as barbarous abuse of man’s best friend.

Pet owner Qingqiu sits next to the tomb of her first dog Huoban.

Pet owner Qingqiu sits next to the tomb of her first dog Huoban. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

Baifu pet cemetery worker Du Huanying decorates a new pet tomb.

Baifu pet cemetery worker Du Huanying decorates a new pet tomb. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

A bear doll is seen beside the tomb of a pet dog ahead of the Qingming Festival.

A bear doll is seen beside the tomb of a pet dog ahead of the Qingming Festival. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters.

In Pictures: China's Pet cemetery