In this paper we present new petrological and whole-rock geochemical data for the Palaeoproterozoic metasedimentary rocks in the upper part of the Ji'an Group within the Jiao–Liao–Ji Belt, China, as well as zircon U–Pb age dates and in situ Lu–Hf isotope data. The new data improve our understanding of the original nature of the metasedimentary rocks, further providing insights into their tectonic setting and the evolutionary history of the northern segment of the Jiao–Liao–Ji Belt. The zircons can be divided into two groups, viz., one of magmatic origin and the other of metamorphic origin. Zircon U–Pb dating gave mean or statistical peak ages for the magmatic zircons at 2035, 2082, 2178, 2343–2421, 2451–2545, 2643–2814 and 2923–3446 Ma, and mean peak ages for the metamorphic zircons at 1855 and 1912 Ma, which indicate a maximum depositional age of 2.03 Ga and two-stage metamorphic events at c. 1.91 and 1.85 Ga for the metasedimentary rocks. Geochemical data show that (1) the protoliths of these rocks were mainly sandstones, greywackes and claystones, together with some shales; (2) the main sources of the sedimentary material were Palaeoproterozoic granites and acid volcanic rocks, with minor contributions from Archaean granitic rocks; and (3) the sediments were deposited in an active continental margin setting. Moreover, along the northeastern margin of the Eastern Block of the North China Craton there is evidence of ancient crustal materials as old as 3.76 Ga, and multiple crustal growth events at 3.23–3.05, 2.80–2.65, 2.54–2.45 and 2.28–2.08 Ga.