Natural Gas Billing Spikes Fuel Consumer Backlash, Investigations in Sichuan and Beyond

In recent weeks, residents of the cities of Chongqing and Chengdu have been posting screenshots of their natural gas bills online and complaining of mysterious gas consumption spikes since the installation of new “smart” gas meters. Some consumers reported that their gas bills were hundreds or even thousands of yuan higher than during the same period last year—and the differences appeared to be due to purported usage increases, not per-unit price rises. One elderly woman living alone in Chengdu received a bill for the staggering sum of 15,000 yuan (approximately $2070 U.S. dollars) for just four months of natural gas usage. Videos posted to social media also showed some of the new meters running unusually fast, even in vacant houses in which the gas had been turned off. 

The topic quickly attracted nationwide attention. The Rednet Public Opinion Center, which tracks public opinion and online engagement, reported that as of April 16, the topic had racked up 219 million online interactions and 6.16 billion impressions on Chinese social media platforms. In Chongqing alone, as many as 26,000 residents complained to the local utility and local authorities about their gas bills. Chengdu’s local utility initially responded to consumer complaints by claiming that observations of rising gas prices were likely based on “mistaken perceptions.”

Amidst the glare of public controversy and an unusually high number of consumer complaints, local authorities in Chongqing opened an investigation into the billing increases. Less than a week later, at a press conference on April 19, Chongqing authorities announced that Che Dechen, Chongqing Gas Group’s general manager and Party secretary, had been removed from his post, and that Chongqing Gas and other local gas companies had indeed been overcharging their customers. The investigation identified mismanagement as well as billing mistakes, chaotic billing cycles, disorganized work in changing gas meters, insufficient staffing, and a lack of internal supervision and management, but insisted that there was no manipulation of or mechanical issues with the city’s newly installed gas meters. Chongqing Gas Group promised to refund all of the excessive gas fees, but many questions remain, including when the refunds will be processed, exactly how the “meter-reading mistakes” occurred, why government oversight failed to identify such large-scale overcharging, and whether local authorities are objective enough to be put in charge of the investigation. Soon after that press conference, market regulators in Chengdu opened an investigation into that city’s natural gas monopoly, Chengdu Gas Group, for violations including chaotic billing and fee collection systems, randomly altered billing cycles, and the practice of charging for estimated, instead of actual, usage amounts. Investigative reporting by Chinese media outlet Yicai revealed that both Chongqing Gas and Chengdu Gas have the same major shareholder, China Resources Gas Group, and have logged record profits over the last year. A recent post on X/formerly Twitter (below) notes 1182 cases of overcharges by Chongqing Gas, for a total of over 2.85 million yuan, with some residents still awaiting refunds:

On Chinese social media, commenters likened the unexpectedly high gas bills to home invasion robbery” (入室抢劫, rùshì qiǎngjié), dubbed the Chongqing and Chengdu gas monopolies “natural-gas assassins” (燃气刺客, ránqì cìkè), and complained that local state-owned energy monopolies wield “too much arbitrary power” (权力太任性, quánlì tài rènxìng). Bloggers, journalists, and ordinary netizens alike have complained that the gas meter controversy has undermined public trust in both local utilities and local governments. Suspicions also abound that cash-strapped local governments and under-subsidized utility companies are now attempting to raise revenue by finding roundabout ways to increase gas, water, and electricity prices for consumers. (A 2023 policy change by China’s National Development and Reform Commission allowed municipal gas companies to raise prices for residential consumers for the first time, after years of selling at a loss.)

The social media attention and subsequent investigations have attracted attention elsewhere, spurring residents of Anhui, Henan, Shanxi, Jiangsu, and other provinces to take a closer look at their recent natural gas bills, particularly in areas where new gas meters were recently installed. A woman in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, who posted her gas bill online later received a threatening visit from the police, demanding to know where her children attended school, where her husband worked, and other personal information about the family. The police later contacted her husband’s supervisor at work, in a further show of intimidation. A WeChat article by current-affairs blogger Fan Dang dissected three tactics used by law enforcement to intimidate the woman from Kunshan into silence: (1) engaging in “threats and intimidation” (恐吓, kǒnghè), (2) leveraging her family as “weak spots” (软肋, ruǎnlèi), and (3) repressing freedom of speech under the guise of “fraud-prevention” (反诈, fǎn zhà). (For more information about “weak spot” and other terms, please see CDT’s latest ebook lexicon.)


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.