The 13,000 residents of Wukan, in the wealthy province of Guangdong, are in open revolt against officialdom and have driven out local Communist Party leaders who they say have been stealing their land for years.
The villagers appear to be winning support from the public, with the first confirmed protest backing them held in the provincial capital Guangzhou on Sunday. The three demonstrators there were detained by police.
While the Guangzhou protest was relatively small, it is a sign that government efforts to block news of the unrest in Wukan have failed and the villagers are attracting public support.
Many local businesses have been closed for the past week while schools have been shuttered as riot police blockade the village, which has for months been the scene of occasionally violent protests over land seizures.
Authorities have vowed to crack down on the instigators of the latest unrest, which was triggered by the arrest nine days ago of five villagers, one of whom died last Sunday in police custody.
Authorities say the 42-year-old man suffered a heart attack, while relatives who saw the body said they believed he had been beaten to death.
Villagers told AFP on Sunday they will march to government offices in Lufeng city on Wednesday unless the body of Xue Jinbo is returned and the other four villagers still in police custody are released.