The estimation of the size and changes of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks is of great importance for decision makers to adopt proper measures to protect soils and to develop strategies for mitigation of greenhouse gases. In this paper, soil data from the Second State Soil Survey of China (SSSSC) conducted in the early 1980s and data published in the last 5 years were used to estimate the size of SOC stocks over the whole profile and their changes in China in last 20 years. Soils were identified as paddy, upland, forest, grassland or waste-land soils and an improved soil bulk density estimation method was used to estimate missing bulk density data. In the early 1980s, total SOC stocks were estimated at 89.61 Pg (1 Pg=103 Tg=1015 g) in China's 870.94 Mha terrestrial areas covered by 2473 soil series. In the paddy, upland, forest and grassland soils the respective total SOC stocks were 2.91 Pg on 29.87 Mha, 10.07 Pg on 125.89 Mha, 34.23 Pg on 249.32 Mha and 37.71 Pg on 278.51 Mha, respectively. The SOC density of the surface layer ranged from 3.5 Mg ha−1 in Gray Desery grassland soils to 252.6 Mg ha−1 in Mountain Meadow forest soils. The average area-weighted total SOC density in paddy soils (97.6 Mg ha−1) was higher than that in upland soils (80 Mg ha−1). Soils under forest (137.3 Mg ha−1) had a similar average area-weighted total SOC density as those under grassland (135.4 Mg ha−1). The annual estimated SOC accumulation rates in farmland and forest soils in the last 20 years were 23.61 and 11.72 Tg, respectively, leading to increases of 0.472 and 0.234 Pg SOC in farmland and forest areas, respectively. In contrast, SOC under grassland declined by 3.56 Pg due to the grassland degradation over this period. The resulting estimated net SOC loss in China's soils over the last 20 years was 2.86 Pg. The documented SOC accumulation in farmland and forest soils could thus not compensate for the loss of SOC in grassland soils in the last 20 years. There were, however, large regional differences: Soils in China's South and Eastern parts acted mainly as C sinks, increasing their average topsoil SOC by 132 and 145 Tg, respectively. In contrast, in the Northwest, Northeast, Inner Mongolia and Tibet significant losses of 1.38, 0.21, 0.49 and 1.01 Pg of SOC, respectively, were estimated over the last 20 years. These results highlight the importance to take measures to protect grassland and to improve management practices to increase C sequestration in farmland and forest soils.