Rights defence lawyers in contemporary China have attracted tremendous attention. Their supporters take them as a leading force for social and political change toward justice, the rule of law and democracy, whereas the hardliners of the ruling Chinese Communist Party regard them as a dangerous hostile force of political dissent. In this article, we will trace the resumption and development of the legal profession in China since the 1980s after its forced disappearance for three decades. Then we will explore the emergence of a group of rights defence lawyers in the context of recent economic, social and political changes. The article will end with a discussion about the potential role of rights defence lawyers in Chinas social and political transformation.