More than a thousand people have gathered outside the burial place of former Communist Party chairman Hua Guofeng in China’s northern Shanxi province since Wednesday night, protesting against local authorities’ plans to tear down his statue. The plan was put on hold last night, Sina.cn reported after news of the protest circulated online. Residents had on January 27 erected the bronze statue of Hua, Mao Zedong’s hand-picked successor who led the party from 1976 to 1981, at a square outside Hua’s cemetery in Jiaocheng county. READ MORE: Mao you see it, Mao you don’t: towering 3m yuan golden statue of Communist leader ‘demolished’ days after internet coverage But just two days after February 16, the 95th anniversary of Hua’s birth, they found signs that the statue would soon be taken down. “After it got dark on Wednesday, the statue was covered with a red cloth and a scaffold built around it, drawing attention, so people started to gather to protect the statue,” said one local, surnamed Pang. Photos online showed people crowded near the statue. Scuffles ensued between residents and police, who tried to disperse the crowd, videos showed. On Thursday afternoon, at least hundreds of people remained in the area, with some having travelled from other parts of the province. A news section of Sina.cn quoted a local publicity official as saying that the removal of the statue was stopped on Thursday night. The report put the estimated number of protesters at 10,000. The Jiaocheng police bureau did not give an official comment. Hua, although only a transitional figure between Mao and Deng Xiaoping, was highly respected in his hometown, Jiaocheng. “Hua made tremendous contributions to the country, there’s nothing wrong in building a statue of him,” read a message circulated among locals. Hua cemented his place in the party’s history with his part in toppling the “Gang of Four” in 1976, bringing an end to the Cultural Revolution. “With you in charge, I am at ease,” Mao reportedly told Hua during Mao’s final days. READ MORE: Wow Zedong! Farmers, villagers join forces to build 36-metre statue of communist leader in northern China Some locals expressed concern that if the authorities tore down Hua’s statue, it would signal an intention by the central government to abandon Mao’s beliefs and school of thought. “Mao’s statue in Henan province was torn down. It [might be] the same [for Hua],” Pang said. Last month, a 37-metre-tall golden statue of Mao in a Henan village was removed days after it was erected. A village official said the statue had not been approved. Hua’s cemetery in Jiaocheng drew controversy when it was built in 2011, with some questioning if it was too luxurious. The local government had funded the 12-million-yuan (HK$14.3 million) project hoping to attract tourists to the county. Hua died aged 87 in 2008.