It remains unclear whether a crystalline basement exists in SE China (including Taiwan), whether the formation of the Tananao metamorphic belt in Taiwan was linked to subduction of the Palaeo-Pacific Plate, and whether the source rocks of the sedimentary sequences in the metamorphic belts are late Mesozoic or Palaeozoic in age. Field investigations and zircon age data in the present study indicate that there is no pre-Palaeozoic gneiss (crystalline basement) in Taiwan (although orthogneisses were produced during deformation and metamorphism of Mesozoic granites), and investigations of the metasediments show that the sedimentary sequences in the Tailuko and Yuli belts are similar. Moreover, LA-ICP-MS dating of detrital zircons from the Pingtan–Dongshan belt in Fujian Province yields a cluster of 206Pb–238U ages at ~ 210–190 Ma, and the Tailuko and Yuli belts in Taiwan have similar clusters of detrital zircon ages at 200 Ma, 160 Ma, 120 Ma and 110 Ma, as well as a later overprinting caused by arc–continent collision. The cathodoluminescence images and trace-element characteristics of the zircons show that they were originally magmatic in origin. This finding, combined with the Hf isotope data, indicates that the sources of sediments in the Tananao belt (Tailuko and Yuli belts) were relatively close to an active continental margin, and that both the Tailuko and Yuli belts have similar sedimentary sources. From the margin of the Chinese mainland to Taiwan, the metasediments seem to represent a continuous sequence of deposits ranging in age from Jurassic to Cretaceous, but with the sediments becoming progressively younger towards the east. It can be inferred that the sediments in the Tailuko and Yuli belts were continental-shelf sequences with sources in SE China.