© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. The Sikouzi Section is located towards the northern limits of the East Asian summer monsoon, providing the opportunity of placing the stratigraphic record into the context of the East Asian summer monsoon history. We present here the results of the details of the sedimentology of the Neogene succession of the section and use these to provide insights into the evolving history of the East Asian summer monsoon. The record is marked by a strongly expressed early Miocene lacustrine phase. A well-defined evaporate bed defines the top of the lacustrine succession, marking the onset of more arid conditions during the middle Miocene. The overlying succession is dominated by a series of alluvial packages, extending into the late Pleistocene with varying stratigraphic architectures and including a subordinate lacustrine component. Given the regional setting, the onset of drier conditions during the middle Miocene must relate to a downturn of summer monsoon activity. We focus on the question: what ‘forced’ this palaeoclimate event? Earlier biostratigraphic work places the explanation of this change into the context of the global-scale middle Miocene climate reorganisation. Here we explore this question in the context of regional-scale climate dynamics and propose that the onset of drier conditions over the study area was a response to atmospheric subsidence driven by circulation changes related to the growth of the Tibetan Plateau.