A man obsessed with stealing his female neighbours' lingerie and hiding it away has been caught and arrested after a ceiling collapsed under the weight of his booty.

The thief in his 30s, only known as Tan, stashed more than 2000 pieces of underwear in a secret hiding place in the suspended ceiling of his flat in Yulin, of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southeast China.

When he ran out of space, he also used the ceiling cavities in the communal fire escape stairwells for storing even more bras and knickers that he pinched.

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He collected each piece, at least one in every colour imaginable, by creeping into his neighbours' homes while they were out or at work with a master key that he had in his possession, the South China Morning Post reported. It is not yet known how he got hold of the key.

Tan also managed to steal underwear from other flats to add to his vast collection, which he claims is the result of a life-long fixation with women's lingerie that he has had since he was a little boy.

The full extent of his apparent disorder was only fully realised by police investigators when each stolen undergarment was lined up on the grass outside the block of flats.

This incident is the latest in a string of underwear burglar cases in China. A 22-year-old man had been caught in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, for stealing 17 pairs of women's knickers in 24 hours. During the same month, another man was held in Hubei province for stealing and wearing women's undergarments.

In 2012, a 48-year-old man in Bangkok, Thailand, admitted to stealing more than 5000 pairs of knickers when his home was searched in connection to a US$325,000 (NZ$420,858) jewellery robbery. He said he began stealing them at the age of 18.

- Independent