Many metamorphic core complexes (MCCs) of Early Cretaceous age are documented in the northern part of the North China Craton (NCC), which formed in a backarc extensional setting. However, whether or not the MCCs are also present in the southern part of the NCC, and where the western boundary of backarc extension lies, remain unclear. We present new structural and geochronological data to show that Early Cretaceous structures in the Xiaoqinling region (China) lying in the southern part of the central NCC represent a Cordilleran-type MCC. The NW-dipping detachment zone on the northwestern edge of the Xiaoqinling MCC is a ductile extensional shear zone that is overprinted by a later brittle detachment fault. The footwall (lower plate) consists of Archean metamorphic rocks and Mesozoic plutonic rocks, and was cut by a series of ductile normal sense shear belts and later brittle normal faults that strike predominantly NE-SW. Both the ductile and brittle structures indicate that NW-SE extension was responsible for the development of the MCC. Geochronological data suggest that the MCC initiated at 138 Ma and lasted until 100 Ma, recording a protracted extensional history. The MCC experienced an early phase of crustal-scale normal faulting (138–126 Ma) and later isostatic doming (125–100 Ma), consistent with the “rolling-hinge” model. The Xiaoqinling MCC shows similar features and a similar evolution to other intraplate MCCs in the northern and southeastern parts of the NCC, and shows that the southern part of the NCC was also involved in intense backarc extension and magmatism. Distribution of these intraplate MCCs indicates synchronous backarc extension over a length of around 1800 km. Delamination of a flat oceanic slab during roll-back is consistent with such large-scale, synchronous extension in the overriding plate.

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