Their defiance came during a swearing-in ceremony in the territory's parliament on Wednesday. In one way or another they mangled the oath of office, which could prevent them from taking their seats in the legislature.
Railing against "tyranny," the rebel lawmakers banged drums, shouted, and mangled the oath of office, which repeatedly refers to Hong Kong as a "special administrative region" of China.
Britain returned the territory to China in 1997. It has operated as a semi-autonomous entity ever since under the catchphrase "one country, two systems."
The handover agreement is supposed to protect Hong Kong's Western-oriented freedoms for 50 years, but there are growing concerns that those liberties are under assault as China tightens its grip.
Two years ago tens of thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand democratic reforms during the so-called Umbrella Movement. The government permanently broke up the demonstrations and sit-ins after three months.
But now some of those protest leaders have been elected parliament - formally the Legislative Council, or "Legco" as it is commonly referred to.
Before taking the oath of office the government had warned lawmakers that they risked losing their seats if they did not take the oath properly - but the young legislators were undeterred.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi
Nathan Law, 23, is the Legco's youngest lawmaker and a former pro-democracy protest leader. He invoked Mahatma Gandhi, India's pro-democracy icon, during an impassioned speech before taking the oath.
"You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body - but you can never imprison my mind," Law said, quoting Gandhi.
Every time he referred to China in the oath, he changed his tone to turn it into a question.
Law, who is demanding for self-determination for Hong Kong, was one of the main leaders of the 2014 protests calling for democratic reform.
Other pro-independence lawmakers, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, added their own words before the oath, pledging to serve the "Hong Kong nation."
Both displayed flags emblazoned with the words: "Hong Kong is not China." Leung took the full oath in English but deliberately mispronounced "China," calling it "Cheena."
Yau was distinctly heard saying "the People's Re-fucking of Zeena," instead of "the People's Republic of China" in her oath, though she later attributed the mispronunciation to her accent.
Another new lawmaker, Eddie Chu, who wants a public referendum on Hong Kong's future sovereignty, shouted "Democratic self-determination! Tyranny will perish!" after taking his oath.
Teacher Lau Siu-lai, another former Umbrella Movement activist, read every word of the oath at a snail's pace, prompting some pro-Beijing lawmakers to walk out.
The Legco clerk told three of the pro-democracy lawmaker that he was unable to "administer" their oaths, because they had modified them.
It's unclear if any of the lawmakers will be barred from taking up their seats deemed not to have taken the oath properly.
bik/kl (AFP, AP)