Our field-based geochemical studies of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous granitoids on Hainan Island indicate that their magmas had different geochemical affinities, changing from alkaline in the Triassic through ocean island basalt (OIB) in the Jurassic, to calc-alkaline in the Cretaceous. We show that these changes in the geochemical affinities of the Mesozoic granitoids on Hainan and in SE China reflect different melt sources and melt evolution patterns through time. Our new geodynamic model suggests that: (1) Triassic geology was controlled by flat-slab subduction of the palaeo-Pacific plate beneath SE China. This slab dynamics resulted in strong coupling between the lower and upper plates, causing push-over tectonics and contractional deformation in SE China. Flat subduction-induced edge flow and aesthenospheric uprising led to the production of high-K granites, syenites and mafic rocks. (2) Slab foundering, accelerated subduction rates and subduction hinge retreat in the Early Jurassic caused rapid rollback of the downgoing slab. Strong decoupling of the upper and lower plates resulted in pull-away tectonics, producing extensional deformation in SE China. Decompression melting of the upwelling aesthenosphere produced OIB-type melts, which interacted with the subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) to form A- and I-type granitoids. (3) Segmentation of the palaeo-Pacific plate in the Early Cretaceous resulted in steeply dipping slabs and their faster rollback, facilitating lithospheric-scale extension and oceanward migration of calc-alkaline magmatism. This extensional deformation played a significant role in the formation of metamorphic core complexes, widespread crustal melting and development of a Basin and Range-type tectonics and landscape evolution in SE China.