GUANGZHOU - Their banners have urged an end to China's "dictatorship", scorned the regime as "rogue" and dared leaders to disclose their assets as a step against graft - all dangerous calls under Communist Party rule.
The Southern Street Movement, a loose network of laymen-activists in Guangdong province, is testing China's limits with overtly political demands and ambitions to inspire placard-waving protests nationwide.
The province has a tradition of defiance - a trade hub long exposed to the outside world, it was the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who ended millennia of imperial rule in China in 1911.
Yet the dissent-wary government has mounted a growing crackdown on activists this year and a smattering of participants have been detained.
Protesters must overcome their fear, says Xie Wenfei, a 37-year-old from central China whose business card declares him a "Southern Street Movement activist" and proclaims: "If you see injustice and remain silent, you have sided with evil".
He raised a sign calling for an end to "one-party dictatorship" in the provincial capital Guangzhou in September, earning himself a month in detention.
"Lots of friends called me to say if you pull out this banner then for sure you'll be arrested," he said. "But I had to do the right thing. I told them someone has to do this.
"First I wanted to tell my like-minded friends to break through the fear.
"Second I wanted to tell the Communist Party that the way they are doing things cannot last. They have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the people and the law."
The movement started in 2011 with monthly protests at a park, said Wang Aizhong, a closely involved 37-year-old businessman, and they organised mini-rallies perhaps dozens of times this year.