Abstract. Natural secondary succession, forest planting and agricultural practices after deforestation affect soil properties in many ways. During the last 50 years, land uses have greatly changed in the mountainous areas in southwestern China as the result of deforestation and cultivation. A study was initiated in Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan province to elucidate the complex relationships in a humid mountainous region. Soil properties under six typical land use types (natural forest, grassland, shrub, secondary forest, cultivated land and reforested land) were compared. Significant differences between land uses were found for soil bulk density (BD), total nitrogen (TN), soil organic carbon (SOC), available phosphorus (AP) and available potassium (AK). Cultivated land had the lowest levels for most soil properties compared to other land uses and shrubland had a higher SOC, TN and available nitrogen (AN) than other land uses. Soils under grassland and shrub contained the greatest carbon mass (TC). Further studies on reforested land indicated that soil properties could be changed by length of reforestation. The SOC and TN in particular showed a linear relationship with years since reforestation. The results suggested that in an area of China where the climate favours secondary succession, ‘leave nature as it is’ is a better choice than the policy ‘change farmland to forest land ‘, especially for the mountainous regions where there is lack of labour and financial support.