A transformation in the tectonic regime affected the continental crust of eastern China during the Middle–Late Jurassic period by changing tectonic trends from E-W to NE and then NNE. The Mesozoic Yanshan tectonic belt in northern China has a distinctive three-segment geometry. This includes a segment south and west of Beijing with a NE trend, a central E-W segment near and east of Beijing, and a NNE-trending segment farther to the east. Field investigations of Mesozoic thrust faults and folds, granitic intrusions and dikes, combined with zircon sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) and laser-ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) dating, constrain the age of the NE-SW–trending tectonic belts that occurred during ca. 170–150 Ma. Melting of the lower crust and crust-mantle interaction resulted in volcanic eruptions and granitic intrusions (ca. 165–155 Ma), and widespread NW-SE to NNW-SSE shortening and transpression in the Yanshan tectonic belt were associated with the movement of the upper part of intracontinental crust (ca. 170–150 Ma) upon a basal decollement located between crystalline basement and overlying rocks (layered crustal rotation). After this transformation, deformation, basin sedimentation, and magmatism occurred in NNE-trending tectonic belts that paralleled the eastern Asian continental margin. This tectonic transformation was temporally and spatially linked to the rapid formation of the Pacific plate at 180–160 Ma.