Palaeomagnetic data from the Lhasa, Qiangtang and Kunlun Terranes of the Tibetan Plateau are used with data from stable Eurasia, eastern China and Indochina, to test different models of crustal thickening in the Tibetan Plateau, to attempt a Carboniferous palaeogeographic reconstruction, and to calculate the relative motion between the South China Block and the Indochina Block. The data suggest that since the onset of the India--Eurasia collision, the Lhasa Terrane has moved 2000 $\pm $ 800 km north with respect to stable Eurasia. This indicates that strong internal defomation must have taken place in southern Eurasia since the collision, and thus challenges the model of large-scale underthrusting of the Indian subcontinent beneath the Tibetan Plateau as the mechanism for crustal thickening in Tibet. Palaeomagnetic results from the Kunlun Terrane show that it was at 22 degrees south latitude during the Carboniferous. A Carboniferous reconstruction is presented in which the Kunlun and Qiangtang Terranes, several Indochina terranes, and the North and South China Blocks are grouped together. These units of continental crust all share the specific tropical and subtropical Cathaysian flora, and the group is therefore called the Cathaysian composite continent. To test the model of propagating extrusion tectonics, we have used newly available palaeomagnetic results from South China and Indochina to calculate probable displacements. This exercise suggests a rotation of about 8 degrees of Indochina with respect to the South China Block that is smaller than the predicted rotation of 40 degrees. A large eastward translation of the South China Block relative to the Indochina Block of about 1500 km is consistent with the palaeomagnetic data.