China will be celebrating the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival on 4 April, which sees pet-owners paying respects to their deceased animals by cleaning their tombs and gravestones.

On the outskirts of Beijing, Baifu Pet Cemetery already holds over three thousand graves of pets including dogs, cats, chickens and even chinchillas. Yet Chinese pets have not always been treated with such importance. When under the ruling of Communist Chairman Mao Zedong, raising a pet in China was considered a bourgeois pastime and was banned. Today, having a pet is considered a symbol of financial success.

Chinese pet owners consider their animals as equals, and often visit the cemetery with family members. They bring decorations to place on the graves such as flowers, food – and even photographs with poignant messages.

Baifu pet cemetery
Pet owner Qingqiu gestures to her dog, Little Huoban, after she cleans the tomb of her dog that passed awayJason Lee/ Reuters

Groundskeeper and gravestone designer Zhang Youwang explained that the cemetery was founded in 2005 and is the first of its kind, filling in a much-needed space for the growing demands of China's increasing number of pet lovers.

"For those who do not raise dogs or pets, it's difficult for them to understand. [They ask] how could people treat animals in this way? They're just like people, they are people, it's equal, they're all the same. So when [the animal dies], they need to come visit their grave even more often than a human's [grave]. Why? Dogs are so loyal to people. They have thoughts, even about people. Good thoughts, bad thoughts--they have them all," he told Reuters.

Baifu pet cemetery
Zhang Youwang, who works at the Baifu pet cemetery, cleans the tomb of a pet dog Baobao, ahead of the Qingming FestivalJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Food is placed on the tomb of pet dog Xixi at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of BeijingJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
A pet owner and her relatives set up decoration flowers for her pet dog Li Naonao at Baifu pet cemeteryJason Lee/ Reuters

A single plot of land for a grave site at Baifu can be rented for a lease of 30 years, with a starting fee from 2,000 to 5,000 yuan (£214.95-£537.36) plus an additional fee of 50 yuan (£5.37), which must be paid yearly. Baifu cemetery also provides gravestones that begin at 2,000 yuan (£214.95) but can go as high as 20,000 (£2149.46). They also have their own cremation services.

Baifu pet cemetery
A collar is placed on the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemeteryJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
A doll is left at the tomb of pet dog Logan at Baifu pet cemeteryJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Toy cars, water and food are left around the tomb of pet dog Zhang Xiaoqiu at Baifu pet cemeteryJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Tomb of pet cat Pangmi, with its picture, is seen at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming FestivalJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Pet owners walk among graves at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming Festival on the outskirts of BeijingJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Tibetan prayer flags wave above a tomb at Baifu pet cemetery ahead of the Qingming FestivalJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
A toy is placed on top of a dogs tomb ahead of the Qingming Festival at Baifu pet cemeteryJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Pet owner Ma Ying cleans the glass covering her dog Liu Dazhuang's tomb, with bathtub, dolls and decoration flowers placed insideJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
A pet owner stands next to a tombJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Pet owner Qingqiu sits next to the tomb of her first dog HuobanJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
Baifu pet cemetery worker Du Huanying decorates a new pet tombJason Lee/ Reuters
Baifu pet cemetery
A bear doll is seen beside the tomb of a pet dog ahead of the Qingming FestivalJason Lee/ Reuters