The formation of the Emeishan large igneous province is widely regarded as being related to a mantle plume, but plate tectonics may also have played an important role. We analyzed the regional facies architecture of the early-stage subaqueous volcanic rocks of the central Emeishan large igneous province. The results suggest that these rocks were emplaced in a N-S–striking subaqueous rift, which existed immediately before the onset of volcanism and was persistently maintained during the early eruption stage. By linking this conclusion with the background information indicating that (1) the basaltic geochemistry in this section is indicative of a subcontinental lithospheric mantle source rather than a mantle plume source, and (2) the western Yangtze plate, where the Emeishan large igneous province was developed, was located in the back-arc region of the Permian Paleo-Tethys subduction system, we propose a new view that the early-stage eruptions of the Emeishan large igneous province were triggered by back-arc extension. The dominant functioning of the mantle plume occurred shortly after this process and inherited it, as evidenced by the following: (1) The subaqueous volcanic architecture showing back-arc geochemical affinity is laterally restricted in the presumed rift, but the overlying subaerial lavas showing plume-related geochemical features overwhelmingly flooded the whole province; (2) vertically, the source of the basaltic component in these intrarift sequences underwent a gradual transition from lithospheric origin to mantle plume origin along the stratigraphic order, as evidenced by an intercalated basaltic succession showing mixed geochemical features from the two contextual origins.