The Taiwan mountain belt is classically viewed as a case example of a critical wedge growing essentially by frontal accretion and therefore submitted to distributed shortening. However, a number of observations call for a significant contribution of underplating to the growth of the orogenic wedge. We propose here a new thermokinematic model of the Taiwan mountain belt reconciling existing kinematic, thermometric and thermochronological constraints. In this model, shortening across the orogen is absorbed by slip on the most frontal faults of the foothills. Crustal thickening and exhumation are sustained by underplating beneath the easternmost portion of the wedge (Tananao Complex, TC), where the uplift rate is estimated to ∼6.3 mm a-1, and beneath the westernmost internal region of the orogen (Hsueshan Range units, HR), where the uplift rate is estimated to ∼4.2 mm a-1. Our model suggests that the TC units experienced a synchronous evolution along strike despite the southward propagation of the collision. It also indicates that they have reached a steady state in terms of cooling ages but not in terms of peak metamorphic temperatures. Exhumation of the HR units increases northward but has not yet reached an exhumational steady state. Presently, frontal accretion accounts for less than ∼10% of the incoming flux of material into the orogen, although there is indication that it was contributing substantially more (∼80%) before 4 Ma. The incoming flux of material accreted beneath the TC significantly increased 1.5 Ma ago. Our results also suggest that the flux of material accreted to the orogen corresponds to the top ∼7 km of the upper crust of the underthrust Chinese margin. This indicates that a significant amount (∼76%) of the underthmst material has been subducted into the mantle, probably because of the increase in density associated with metamorphism. We also show that the density distribution resulting from metamorphism within the orogenic wedge explains well the topography and the gravity field. By combining available geological data on the thermal and kinematic evolution of the wedge, our study sheds new light onto mountain building processes in Taiwan and allows for reappraising the initial structural architecture of the passive margin.