Six isonitrogenous diets (420 g kg−1 crude protein on dry matter basis) with six levels of soybean meal (SBM) inclusion (0, 112, 225, 336, 449 and 560 g kg−1) in substitution of fish meal (0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100%) were evaluated in Chinese sucker of 1.81 ± 0.01 g initial weight for 8 weeks. There existed a significant difference (P < 0.001) in fish weight gain, feed conversion ratio, feed intake, protein efficiency ratio and specific growth rate when the replacement level for fish meal protein was increased from 40% to 60%, indicating that up to 40% of fish meal protein could be replaced with SBM protein without causing reduction in growth and protein utilization. Lipid contents in the Chinese sucker body decreased significantly (P < 0.001) as dietary SBM increased. Digestive enzyme activities in the intestine and hepatopancreas of the fish were significantly different (P < 0.001) as the SBM protein replacement level was increased. Results of the present study appear to indicate that 40% FM can be replaced by SBM in practical feeds of Chinese sucker.