This article discusses the paradox the age of individualization has created for China, based on the experiences of SH, an international metropolis in the country’s east. The authors interpret this paradox as one aspect of the problem of social vigor – a lack of individual autonomy. This is an issue particularly apparent in SH, a city at the forefront of the transition in China’s mode of economic growth, and the lack of vigor is particularly keenly felt. So how do the residents of SH deal with this lack of autonomy in daily life? Their experiences are worthy of in-depth consideration. The authors hold that they still rely on guanxi to create room for autonomy – a Chinese solution which differs from that in the West. Of course, this guanxi-based approach differs greatly from the traditional ethics-based approach.