In Beijing, people trade dogs, parrots, phone cards - and space for the dead. The business of the Tianbao Fuyuan (Blessed Garden of the Pearl of Heaven) company, on the third floor of the Huaxia Bank building, is not bank deposits or letters of credit, but selling space for the ashes of the dead, for 3,600 yuan (about HK$3,351), in a tower in Sanhe city, about 200 kilometres south of Beijing. Since it went into business last September, the company has sold more than 10,000 of its 150,000 space allocations to individuals for their own use as well as to speculators who buy them to re-sell. The price has risen 20 per cent since last year and some people have bought more than 50 allocations. The scheme is only the most outlandish - and unfortunately illegal - dreamt up by entrepreneurs to satisfy the demand for new, high-return investments. If you find bank accounts, stocks and government bonds offering returns that are too low, there are more exotic options - parrots, Pekinese, stamps, coins, telephone cards, cigarette lighters, key-rings and badges of Mao Zedong or Lin Biao. Trade in these items is fuelled by millions of yuan looking for fast gains and by the army of unemployed who can barely live on the 200 yuan a month income they are supposed to receive. In the first half of last year, the hottest item traded was stamps, with turnover of 200 million yuan a day at Beijing's busiest market, in a public park. But the government decided prices were rising too fast and that too much money was going into the market, so it tripled the volume of each stamp issue from 10 million to 30 million, pricking the bubble and increasing the revenue of the post office, which gets money from selling stamps but nothing from the secondary trading market. It also moved the market from the park to a less accessible, indoor site. Qiao Jian, a spokesman for the new market, said profit margins on stamp trading have fallen to 20-30 per cent from 200 per cent or more a year ago, at the height of the fever. 'We have Asia's largest stamp market here, with 6,000 visitors a day on weekends and 2,000 to 3,000 on weekdays,' he said. Daily turnover at Beijing's eight markets is seven million to eight million yuan. About half the stall-holders are laid-off workers. They also trade coins, paper money, telephone cards and badges and mementos of Chinese leaders. China has 21 million collectors of stamps nationwide in addition to those buying and selling just for profit. Mr Qiao said it was now more profitable to trade parrots than stamps, because the market was more speculative and less regulated. But the risk is higher, because of the smaller proportion of genuine bird-lovers and the greater number of speculators, people who buy the eggs or a young pair of birds to raise and then sell. Top of the range is the peony parrot. The price of a pair reached a record 20,000 yuan late last year. They first arrived in China in 1976, when Tanzania gave 30 pairs to the Beijing Zoo, which in turn gave 100 to the Beijing Parrot-Lovers Society in 1984. Raising parrots remained a hobby for amateurs until last year, when the stamp boom collapsed and the hot money flowed into the parrot market, pushing up prices and causing an increase in supply, with hundreds of people raising them in their living rooms. China has become the world's number one breeder of parrots and has started to export them to Europe, according to the press. The dog market is not so good, according to traders offering spotless, white Pekinese outside one city department store. 'A few years ago, you could sell these for 10,000 yuan, but then the government put strict controls on the market,' one trader said. 'Now the price is only 2,800 yuan. No, you do not need a licence for this one, it is only six months old. You only need one when it is 12 months old.' Things are even worse at the company selling space for ashes. The offices are locked and the lights are out. 'What we are doing here is good for the nation and for the people, saving farmland,' said one of the staff, disconsolate in the dark corridor. 'And our prices are cheaper than those in Hong Kong or Taiwan. But we touched the financial interests of certain government departments, so they interfered and damaged our business.' Earlier this year, the media reported that trade in pre-death purchases of graves or space for ashes was illegal.