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ALL tourists return home with a little something to remind them of their travels. For most of us it's at least a camera full of pictures, but Keith Stevens took things to extremes. After four decades travelling around China, he amassed a collection of more than 30,000 images.

Not the usual snaps of the Forbidden City, or the Great Wall or the skyscrapers of Shanghai, though. His pictures were of the gods, demons and spirits inhabiting the country's many temples.

But even that wasn't enough for the self-proclaimed god-hunter. He tracked down woodcarvers and antique dealers in search of redundant gods that had been retired from active service to make way for newly-carved and painted replacements.

Once back in Blighty, they joined his ever-growing collection in a room in his home known to Chinese visitors as the "Cave of the Thousand Buddhas".

Sitting in rank and file on shelves around the walls were door gods; hungry ghosts; the heavenly dog who eats the moon; the wealth god who rides a tiger; the 1,000-armed sex-change goddess and gods of creation, prehistory, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, fate, destiny, health, medicine, matrimony, childbirth, wealth, and business.

Keith, a retired official with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the world's leading authority on Chinese deities died last year, from a brain haemorrhage.

Now his family has decided the collection should be sold. More than 2,500 of the brightly painted and gilded deities will be offered in around 250 lots, many accompanied by Keith's meticulous cataloguing notes.

The sale, at The Canterbury Auction Galleries in Kent, is expected to raise around PS100,000.

The carvings come from the southern China provinces of Fukien, Hunan and the Pearl River Delta, with some retaining the dated dedication slips on the back showing when they were consecrated for use in the temple where they served.

Records also show when and where Keith acquired them, the majority purchased in a hive of antique shops in Hong Kong's Hollywood Road between the 1960s and 1980s.

One of the most valuable depicts the deified Imperial Commissioner Lin Tse-hsu, (1785-1850) a bitter enemy of foreigners who attempted to crush the opium trade.

Carved around 1860, the figure depicts the elderly mandarin sporting a goatee beard, accompanied by two servants, the male on his left and the female on his right.

In 1839, Lin Tse-hsu was despatched to Kuangtung Province where he confiscated and burned all of the stocks of opium held by British and foreign merchants.

Memorial temples dedicated to him were erected in Foochu city, his home in Fukien, and where the destruction took place on the Pearl River in 1840, now the site of the Opium War Museum.

star gods. 200-PS300) A temple there portrays Lin sitting on the throne to which devotees offer incense to this day. The carving is estimated at PS3,000-PS5,000.

Keith's 30,000 photographs will be sold as a separate lot, while his library and his other collections of carved jade, ceramics and metalware will round off the day.

The sale is on Thursday October 6. It would have been Keith's 90th birthday.

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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