This article focuses on advances in both basic and applied research on soybean germplasm resources collected from China and dispersed to the world. Many landraces developed over the course of the 4500 years since its domestication in the Huangdi period. Systematic germplasm collection was begun in the early 20th century by Professor Shou Wang, and since then over 170,000 accessions have been conserved worldwide. Evaluation with respect to key morphological characteristics, pest resistance, abiotic stress tolerance and nutritional quality attributes has been widely carried out. In addition, genetic diversity has been assessed at the DNA level, and used to establish core collections for both cultivated (Glycine max) and wild (Glycine soja) soybean. Some core sets have targeted the most used parental lines, and others have focused on specific traits, such as resistance to the soybean cyst nematode or to soybean mosaic virus, or enhanced phosphorus use efficiency. The recent acquisition of the soybean genome sequence should accelerate the utilization of not only the Chinese soybean germplasm collection, but also those maintained elsewhere in the world.