The Middle Permian (c. 262 Ma) Emeishan Basalt Formation of SW China is a commonly cited example of a large igneous province (LIP) that formed as a result of a deep-mantle plume impinging on the base of the lithosphere and generating large regional-scale up-doming prior to volcanism. Recently, however, this assertion has been challenged on the grounds that some lava flows close to the centre of the LIP were erupted in a submarine setting. Here we analyse all the available biolithostratigraphical, petrological, geochemical and volcanological information and show that this supports the idea that the terrain was generated by a plume that originated in the mantle. Emeishan basalt magma melted from a hot mantle source with trace element contents that are similar to the source of Icelandic and intraplate ocean island basalts. However, the amount and lateral extent of uplift is significantly less than is predicted by conventional deep-mantle plume models. We conclude that large-scale doming is not a diagnostic feature of mantle plumes; surface topography can be greatly influenced by the type of lower mantle plume (thermal or thermochemical), how it passes through the transition zone, and how it interacts with the lithosphere.