MOUNTAINS have been moved, rivers redirected, forests felled. The green and gently undulating south China countryside of 20 years ago has been scraped into a flat and orange scab, slashed by a superhighway and zigzag-stitched with electricity cables. Where a pattern of walled farms, footpaths and paddy fields once formed the imprint of an ancient farming community, there is now Zheng Cheng - identikit new town for the new migrant workers of the new China. A flat and brutal concrete arrangement. A place without a past. Welcome to Amnesiaville. Welcome to China's bullfighting capital. At noon on Saturdays the cranes stop. Full wallets and purses depart from Zheng Cheng's numerous factories and building sites and the streets are suddenly a pageant of grubby pastel sportswear and shocking jumpers. Some wallets immediately lighten themselves in the town's many karaoke bars, restaurants or video arcades. Others might off-load at one the town's brand-new historical monuments such as the Ancient Temple of the Monkey King (its fibreglass facade made in Shenzhen and assembled on site last year). But today the pay packet solvent par excellence is the bullfight. For the last week posters outside Zheng Cheng Greyhound Stadium have stirred local imaginations declaring 'Open up the culture of bullfighting', 'Just like horse racing', 'Wake up the moral of our country' and 'Our bullfight is better than Spain's'. Did you catch it? The subtle but exceedingly sharp hook guaranteed to jag more than a few notes from most Chinese wallets. Guaranteed to get at least 4,000 local workers into the stadium. 'Just like horse racing.' Now, officially gambling is banned, but ..... You pay your 15 yuan ($13), squeeze through the turnstile and find a space on the terraces. Below, inside the sand racetrack, Mr Hero Thunder - unmistakable in his bright purple 'bullmaster' pyjamas - is customising the football pitch. Drummers have been positioned in the goal mouths, 12 plastic red-and-white striped tents, each containing a red bull or water buffalo, are pitched along the touchline and in the centre Mr Hero Thunder is painting a white circle 20 metres across. According to the sheet of paper you were given (somehow handed to you by mistake because gambling is definitely banned), two bulls will lock horns within this circle and - in the manner of Sumo wrestlers - the loser will be the one pushed out of the circle first. This is not the 'inferior' Spanish version. There is no tight-trousered matador dealing out death in the afternoon, no sequinned theatrics, no call for cojones. The men you see running around the pitch in red and yellow pyjamas are simply there to encourage the bulls to lock horns. The bull's owners do not want a death. At 30,000 yuan for a prime male fighting bull, the owners could not possibly afford a death. Once one bull is pushed out of the circle that is the end of that fight. BUT from the very first minute of the spectacle it is clear that despite the carefully written rules, the detailed diagrams and Mr Hero Thunder's new circle, one small aspect has been overlooked. Bulls don't read. And even if - by some Disneyesque feat - they could, it wouldn't do any good. Their last bucket of feed consisted of rice wine, 'special herbs' and crushed centipedes. The rolling swagger of the first two contenders is unmistakable. They're sauced to the eyeballs. Follow the rules? They can barely walk. But in case that is not enough to elicit a scrap, Mr Hero Thunder - now MC-ing the event through a karaoke mike - helpfully points out that none of the bulls have been allowed to have sex for over six months. Two irritated males, no sex, some drugs and a bucket of wine; as a recipe for violence it is world class, and proved effective every Friday night in provincial towns around the globe. The first two bulls - massive water buffalo each draped in the banners of their sponsors - wobble on. The Palace Hotel from one end of the pitch, the Rich Garden Marble Company from the other. They take a couple of steps, stop and eat a little freshly trucked in stadium turf, which is already drying and dying in the afternoon haze. Drummers drum. Men waving sticks wave sticks. The bulls chew the cud, swaying slightly. Then they see each other. The stick-wavers try to restrain them. But five men versus 500 kilogrammes of demented beef, even wearing yellow silk pyjamas, is no odds at all. One man grabs Palace Hotel's tail and is dragged along for 20 metres. With every step the bulls get faster and closer. Mr Hero Thunder is going mad on the mike but he can't keep up. They connect with a terrific clunk. The crowd goes wild. The bulls are nowhere near the circle. Eight legs, four horns, one hamburger. The fights are quite brutal. Quite awesome. Each attempts to use his sharp horns to rip out his opponent's eyes. They lock heads and push, waiting for the other to lose balance, waiting for their chance at bull's-eye. The stewards, thanks to their uniforms and the sheer scale of the bull's natural power, have taken on the role of clowns. They pull on the bulls' tails, attach ropes to their hind legs but they cannot move them any nearer Hero's circle. Then suddenly - as often happens - one bull gives up and runs, pursued and occasionally prodded up the rump by the victor. The stewards give chase. And round and round the stadium they go. If the event was vaudeville before, it is now pantomime. Any remaining sense of order is trampled underfoot. The authority of the organisers is in tatters. Humiliation looms. And for a crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 Chinese economic migrants the chance to laugh out loud when authority is humiliated is all too rare. They are in hysterics. They are in heaven. The laughter begins to trail off when Palace Hotel, hotly pursued by Rich Garden Marble Company, is about six metres from the perimeter fence and shows no signs of slowing down. Then, with one massive leap, the half-tonne animal sails over the metre-high fence and - hey diddle diddle - hits the other side at charge speed. All that now remains between him, the packed terraces and you is the width of the sand racetrack and a thin steel gate tied with bailing string. The crowd is silent. If violence was funny a moment ago it isn't now. Palace Hotel raises his speed and lowers his blood-splattered horns . Ssssllurrp! Lui Han Xun's long thick tongue slowly tours his lips and chin, shepherding any lost grains of rice back into his mouth. It is a couple of hours before today's bullfight and Lui, who is treating you to lunch at the farm where the bulls are stabled and trained, fixes you with his bovine eyes across the table: 'Chinese are all descendants of the bull,' he says. 'Chinese agriculture is built on the power and bravery of the bull.' As the chairman of Yan Huang Cultural Economic Development Company Ltd and the organiser of today's spectacle, he is messianic about his subject. 'A Chinese bullfight is not just a fight with bulls,' he says. 'It is a link with our past, our land, our ancestors - it is something almost spiritual.' Images of bullfighting are inscribed on the Great Wall. It is a common theme in country craft and goes back to the Qing Dynasty (221 - 207 BC). Even 40 years ago, according to Lui, it was still part of the fabric of agricultural life. 'In Hunan, we would have bullfights all the time,' he says. 'Sometimes it was for gambling, sometimes it was a way of settling disputes between villages.' The fights were often epic, lasting hours and dragging young Lui and his friends through a gamut of emotions. 'What you have to understand,' says Lui, 'is that the bulls lived with country people. Sometimes they even lived in our houses. So you knew a bull's character very well and to see him fight was very moving.' Being bull-on-bull, rather than bull versus vain man with cape and sword, the fights were rarely to the death. 'There was no need. They were about a particular bull's strength and skill not a particular man's bravery,' says Lui. If a bull did die it was accidental, like the time two bulls - one chasing the other - leaped to their deaths over a cliff edge, or it was part of a ritual after the fight. 'But even when we killed a bull after a fight it was so we could eat its meat and we always killed it with respect. As children we learned never to cut a bull's throat until you saw it cry. You would tie the bull up so it was lying on its side and then you would hold the knife up to its face so that the bull would know he was about to die for you. When you saw a tear in his eye it meant he understood he was going to die and was ready to die, only then could you cut his throat.' (Beef, incidentally, is absent from Lui's table. 'I don't eat beef because my bulls would smell it on me and it would upset them,' he says.) Lunch is over and Lui gets up from the table and inserts an audio tape into a massive home entertainment altar.After a 10-minute struggle, the stereo blinks into life and the bullfight company's very own promotional song bursts forth - a rousing arrangement of traditional Chinese instruments and synthesizers.The music is by Beijing's Suen Chen. The lyrics are pure Lui: 'Dear Bull, We do not know each other well enough / All I know is that you tolerate us / You bear our weight on your shoulders / It leaves a deep scar / Oh my bull / Oh my sweetie bull / I did not know you could fight so well / I did not know you were so proud / I must get to know you better ?' The song repeats continuously until you leave for Zheng Cheng when it is transferred to the car stereo and played continuously until you get to the stadium when it is transferred to the tannoy system and played continuously until you get into the van heading back to Guangzhou when, once again, it is played continuously. 'Good isn't it,' says Lui. JUST how keen the crowd is to get to know Palace Hotel as it head-butts the terrace gate off its hinges is unclear. Certainly most people seem too busy diving to one side or running for their lives to chant, 'Oh my bull, my sweetie bull.' However once the bull realises that Rich Garden Marble Company is no longer pursuing him, he calms down and is soon returned to his plastic stable.